Paraclete’s Promise- Chapter 5: Light In The Darkness

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Chapter 5 wraps up our little hero’s first adventure. If you need to be brought up to speed, I encourage you to visit the previous chapters. If you truly like what you’ve read thus far, why not consider buying a copy of my book. It’s available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Apple. Thanks for sticking by me, friends.

Chapters 1 & 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4


 

5—Light In The Darkness

The dive helmet proved to be the coolest piece of equipment, of the entire suit. Once he slid the helmet over his head, the familiar computer voice spoke within the helmet’s audio system, as the device automatically ran through a series of diagnostic checks. Inside the bug-eye visors, a checklist scrolled down, accompanying the voice.

OPTICS AT 100 PERCENT; AIR FLOW NOZZLES AT 100 PERCENT; SEALS ENGAGING.”

Tim’s ears popped as the helmet gently squeezed around his neck; and under his jaw.

AIRTIGHT SEALS AT 100 PERCENT; READY FOR DIVING, MR. SMITH.”

Jonah’s voice filled the hidden speakers within the helmet.

“Let’s go. Time’s wasting. I’m setting the wet room to submerge in 20 seconds.”

Tim descended the ladder into the wet room. The inner floor hatch, with the peep hole in the center, slowly closed and sealed with an airtight woosh.

“Wet room submerging in 5, 4, 3, 2,” Jonah counted.

Oval slates along the smooth stainless steel walls opened, sending a flush of sea water into the tiny room. A flash of panic ran up Tim’s spine as the room quickly filled. He groped for something to hold on to, and braced for the cold shock of sea water.

“I never understood why this always frightened you, Tim.” Jonah said. “After dozens of missions, you’re still jumpy when the wet room fills.”

As the water rose over his waist, then his chest, and up to his helmet, Tim closed his eyes and held his breath, waiting for the helmet to spring a leak and fill with salt water. When he couldn’t hold out any longer, he inhaled deep, breathing in cool, clean air. He opened his eyes in time to see Jonah swimming out of the wet room, through the bottom hatch, into the darkness of the sea.

“The water’s not freezing,” he said.

“Of course it is. The suit’s regulating your temperature, you dope. C’mon, let’s go.”

As he followed Jonah through the open hatch, his fingers again performed a series of unknown, but familiar taps, pressing buttons on the left side of his belt. The hatch slowly swung shut locking them outside of the pod’s protective hull. At the same time, Tim’s helmet lit up a brilliant green inside. The shrouded darkness of the sea could now be seen in a green hue that showed everything within a radius of 200 feet, as clearly as daylight topside.

“I see you! I see the cave below. Wow!”

Tim stopped stroking and hovered in place. He spun from side to side, looking every-which-way possible, in awe of the sights to be seen in this strange new world. Everything was alive with activity. Deep sea sharks, 100 feet above the pod, swam around in their own patterns just as the fish at the Coney Island Aquarium had done when he’d gone to the park for his 6th birthday. The base of the mountain was out of sight, but he could still make out bubbles floating up from what must be its bottom.  Jonah hovered a few yards out from Tim’s position, anxiously awaiting his partner.

“Tim, I’ll feel a lot better if you save the sightseeing for later. We’ve got to get the treasure back to the pod.”

“What’s the rush Jonah? I’m just getting used to this. Besides, it’s not going anywhere I don’t think.”

“I’m not worried about the treasure walking off without us, Tim. I’m worried that we’re not the only intelligent creatures alone down here anymore.”

The crocodile; how had he forgotten so soon? Terror settled over Tim again. He was aware of the vast emptiness surrounding them both. That creature could be watching them right this moment, just outside the range of their hyper vision goggles. Tim punched a sequence into his belt’s computer. The system responded.

EMERGENCY THRUST PROPELLERS CUED; READY FOR ACTIVATION.”

Against his hips, two tiny triangular slots—like inverted pop tops he’d seen on the table salt canisters Mom bought from the grocery store—suddenly flipped open on the belt. Miniature ports drop down out of the slots. In the far corner of each bug-eye visor, an energy gauge displayed two vertical bars; one for each thrust propeller. Tim’s helmet hummed as the tiny engines prepared to fire.

“Easy on the throttle, Tim. We’ll need to save energy for the journey back up to the pod, while we carry the chest together. Use just enough boost for a quick start, okay?”

“How big is it, Jonah?”

“Well, let’s just say we’re both going to have a time dragging it out of the cave.”

Tim stretched out in a diving pose. He glanced at Jonah, giving him two thumbs-up.

“Thrusters fire,” he said.

ENGAGING THRUSTERS.”

The belt tightened against his waist as the thrusters exploded, propelling him through the water at a blinding speed. There was a sudden jerk on the top of his helmet, as the leather flap extended. Tim turned his head left, toward Jonah. His suit responded by changing his trajectory, speeding him toward his partner.

“Watch yourself, Tim!” Jonah yelled over the radio. “Get it together, bro. What’s gotten into you?”

Tim shifted again, turning his head in the direction of the cave below. It was hard to keep his limbs in line with the target at such speeds. Behind the visors, a number display read 70mph and continued climbing. The cave entrance, a distant speck a moment ago, now seemed as large as a Ferris wheel circle.

“Back off of the throttle Tim. We can swim the rest of the way into the cave.”

“Roger than, Jonah. Thrusters stop.”

THRUSTERS DEACTIVATED.”

The two explorers swam for the mountain cave, frequently watching over their shoulders for any signs of movement. Close to the entrance, a light-bulb fish appeared from behind a high crop of mountain rock, startling Tim.

“Stay sharp, Tim. I think this cave might be the beast’s lair. We’re in dangerous territory here, so let’s watch each other’s backs.”

As they swam up the hollowed shaft of the cave, the walls closed in. The ceiling and floor of the cave also condensed. The girth of the huge cave slowly diminished.

“Jonah, I don’t like it. We’ve got nowhere to run if he’s here.” Tim fought against the fear rising within his heart.

I am still with you.

“Who said that?” Tim shouted, as he stopped stroking and spun around.

“Who said what?” Jonah asked. “C’mon, stay with me here. It’s just the two of us.”

“Jonah, someone else has been speaking to me since…well since I woke up back at the control console.”

“I knew it!” Jonah yelled.

“Well who is it? Whoever he is, he’s beginning to creep me out.”

“I knew you fell asleep while I was down here alone! Tim, that crocodile could’ve eaten me alive while you were snoozing up there. You have to watch my back at all times.”

“Jonah, I’m telling you, someone’s been talking to me.”

“Okay, let’s pretend you really are hearing voices besides mine, thousands of feet under the ocean. What are they telling you while we’re busy swimming up an underwater tunnel, in search of lost treasure?”

Tim felt heat in his cheeks; anger rising. What was it that Dad said, back at home? Just then, an idea came to mind.

“That’s it. I’m dreaming. I must’ve gone to sleep at home. Yup that’s it, all right! I fell asleep in the box. None of this is real.”

Tim heard Jonah sigh over the radio.

“Now I’m your imaginary friend. That’s awesome. We’ll see how you feel once we’ve found the chest, Tim. When we return to the surface, you’re going to the doctor to get your brain examined.”

An alarm beeped inside his helmet, directing Tim’s attention toward a wire frame digital diagram showing the terrain of the cave, projected through his visors. The explorers were swimming toward a vertical wall at the back of the cave. As they approached, Tim saw jagged protrusions jutting from the vertical surface.

“Are those steps I see, Jonah?”

“It looks that way, yeah. I think, at one time, this area of the cave was a huge air pocket. You noticed we swam up through the tunnel, to get this far. Maybe, this wall wasn’t always underwater. Someone would have needed a way to get into the upper cave.”

“Upper cave; I thought this was it?”

“No, we’ve got to swim up a ways, before we find the air pocket.”

The vertical turn was easy enough to maneuver. Tim kicked while his padded fingers gripped each jagged step; 18 in all. Jonah reached the top first, climbing out of the water, onto a ledge.

“Watch your step up here,” Jonah said. “The deck is a bit slippery. You won’t need your helmet anymore. The air is a bit stale, but breathable.”

Tim reached up, penetrating the water’s surface for the first time in weeks, his memory told him. Jonah gave a hand, pulling him out of the depths, into a cavernous hollow. Large stalactites and stalagmites of differing shades and colors were everywhere. Off to the far right of the hollow, Tim saw a bright glow emitted behind a large rock wall. Judging by the pathway of trampled and crushed dripstone, Jonah had previously walked in that direction. But the pathway of destruction of the natural formations was far too wide to have been caused by Jonah alone. Tim deactivated the helmet’s hyper vision.

“Jonah, I—”

“Yeah, you see it don’t you? That crocodile’s been in here. I didn’t have to disturb any of the dripstone formations to get to the chest behind that crusted wall. The creature’s been guarding it. Looks like it hasn’t returned, so let’s get what we came for.”

“Roger that,” Tim said. The duo walked further into the cavern, toward the far rock wall. “Sure is spooky in here.”

“Hey, God did not commit to us the spirit of fear,” Jonah recited. Tim smiled wide behind his helmet.

“But of power, love, and sound mind. Thanks, Jonah.”

“Momma’s bible study, every Sunday evening for as long as I can remember. She made me memorize 2 Timothy 1:7, knowing I would someday be an explorer.”

“Dad likes that one, too. He makes us say it every night before bed.”

Tim suddenly missed home. He missed his siblings and his parents. He remembered this was all just a dream, and soon he would wake up. As they approached the wall, he squinted. The golden light on the other side was so bright!

“Jonah, did you leave the box opened when you left the cave?”

“No! I shut the lid; made sure of it, because I had to figure out how we were going to move the whole thing through the water without losing a single piece. I latched the clasp and shoved a small piece of dripstone through the lock hole, to keep the lid shut. As soon as I closed it, the light was locked away inside the chest.”

Tim ran for the wall, with Jonah quick at his heels. The duo rounded the edge of the wall. Standing before them was a large wooden box trimmed in tarnished golden ribbing. Its ancient hinges were rusted from ages of sitting in the damp air. Its wood had taken on a soggy and splintery texture. Barnacles encrusted the bottom of the chest, onto the floor of the cave. Behind the chest, golden light flooded the tiny chamber formed by several close cropped walls and a low ceiling. Tim’s eyes were fixed on the chest, unable to look away.

“It looks just like my toy chest back home, except for the gold stuff along the edges and the old wood. It’s the same.”

Tim brushed a gloved hand over the lid of the chest. A fresh wave of sadness washed over him as he pictured home in his mind.

“Tim, take a look at this.” Jonah stood ten feet behind the chest, hands on hips, gazing at the cave floor. “I promise you, this was not here before. I don’t know where it came from. I’m not even sure of what it is.”

The urgency in Jonah’s voice broke the allure of the chest. Tim slowly walked toward the back of the cave shielding his eyes from the onslaught of brilliant light pulsing from what looked to be a large oval of light in the floor.

“Jonah, what in the world?”

“I just said I don’t know what it is, Tim! It wasn’t here before.”

“Whatever it is,” Tim started, “I feel like I’m supposed to…”

I am with you,

“What?” Jonah asked. “Tim, you’re supposed to what?”

“I don’t know. Feels like it’s calling me, somewhere deep down inside.”

Jonah turned away, walking back toward the chest. Tim heard the latch squeak and the hinges creak in protest; metal on metal grinding. The cave, already alight by the hole in the ground, now blazed a magnificent golden yellow, as Jonah pushed the lid back. There was a loud thunk, as the lid collided with the back of the chest. It was filled to the brim with golden nuggets resembling peanuts, cashews and walnuts.

Tim walked to the chest and scooped a handful of the little nuggets. The duo glanced at one another, before exploding in laughter. Tim stuffed a handful of nuggets into the hidden pockets of his suit, laughing hysterically.

“I can’t believe we found this! We did it, Jonah! We actually found the lost treasure of the pirates of Camoon! Now we have to figure out how—”

A great splash and enormous thump ricocheted off the walls of the cavern, shaking the nuggets within the chest. Tim crouched while Jonah reached for a small stick strapped to his right leg.

“Stay put, Tim. It’s here. I’m going to draw its attention away from the chest, while you make a run for the water. Get to the pod as soon as possible! Do you understand?”

“Jonah, I’m not leaving you behind. We figure out how to go together.”

Jonah thrust the stick out. Two thin shiny blades popped out of both ends of the handle. Inside the visor-goggles of Jonah’s helmet, Tim watched the hyper vision light activate, then turn a shade of red, as Jonah took up an attack stance.

“Seriously Jonah, you’re going to charge that thing! Are you insane? There has to be another way out of this cave without facing it.”

“There isn’t, so wait for my signal. When I yell, go for the water. Trust me, if you’ve got a better idea, I’m all ears.”

A guttural roar alerted them to the creature closing in on their position. Jonah sprinted for the edge of the wall, screaming like a warrior; the double edge spear lifted high above his head. Another monstrous roar resonated through the cave, and Tim heard Jonah screaming in fear as he tore up the opposite end of the cavern. Stalactite and stalagmites crushed into powder under the creature’s advance.

“Now, Tim! I’ll see you on the other side!” Jonah yelled.

There was a sound like metal reflecting off stone. Jonah fought the beast somewhere within the cave! Tim was petrified, once again unable to move. Somehow he mustered the courage to take a shaky step toward the edge of the wall separating the chest’s hiding place from the main cavern. One step became two. Two steps became a slow trot. The trot gained momentum until he was running around the wall straight for the entrance pool.

Come to me, Timothy. I’m still with you.

“No, not again!” Tim yelled. His small hands went to the helmet, trying to cover his ears. “Who are you? Why are you doing this to me?”

Come to me, Timothy.

Tim looked over the devastation of dripstone debris leading toward the darkened end of the cavern. Deep within that darkness arose the sounds of battle and destruction. Tim whispered.

“Combat vison.”

COMBAT VISION ACTIVATED.” The computer responded.

The helmet’s hyper vision lit the visors a brilliant red hue, illuminating the cavern before him. There was Jonah, racing back toward Tim. His broken spear dangled in his right hand, a crack in one of his visor-goggles, a tear in his suit along the left arm. He’d never be able to make the swim back to the pod with a ruptured suit and busted helmet! The freezing water would kill him within minutes. Behind Jonah the crocodile beast slithered snake-like with incredible speed, gaining on him. Shiny blue scales and massive sharp yellow glowing teeth bore down on Jonah.

“I thought I told you to swim! What are you waiting for? Go now!”

“Lord, I don’t know what to do,” Tim screamed, as he looked toward the entrance pool a few yards away. Even if they made the water, the creature would have them captured in the tunnel.

Come to me, Timothy.

Beyond the fear that gripped his heart, Tim found a quiet, peace rising within his spirit. Suddenly, he knew where to go. It made no sense, but he knew it was the right thing to do.

“I told you what to do, Tim,” Jonah barked. “Run for the—”

Tim darted back toward the chest hiding behind the far wall. His heart pounded, His mind couldn’t focus as he ran. He knew he needed to get back to that little hiding place.

“Don’t stop, Jonah! Follow me,” he yelled.

Jonah couldn’t believe what he was seeing, as he banked left to follow his partner back toward the treasure chest. They were going to die down here. He was sure of it. Tim had lost his nerve and his senses. Jonah’s last idea was to make a final stand in the back of the small hiding hollow. He ran with all his might. When he rounded the wall, the beast was so close, Jonah could feel the breeze from its chomping bites push against his back. Tim was airborne, head first, diving.

Tim, rounded the wall, still following the direction of the voice.

That’s it. Come to me, Timothy. I’m still with you.

Without so much as a second thought, he threw himself into an awkward headfirst dive over the opened chest, sailing straight for the pulsing yellow hole in the ground, behind the treasure. Screaming through the air, Tim shut his eyes just as he connected with the light of the hole. Somewhere close behind, echoed the screams of Jonah and the enraged roar of the beast.


 

So faithful fans, now you have a feel for Timothy and his amazing adventure thus far. What happens next? You’ll have to read the book!

 

 

Paraclete’s Promise – Chapter 4: Partners & The Prize

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Hi faithful fans. If you have yet to read the previous chapters of my book, I encourage you to visit these posts before reading chapter 4:

Chapters 1&2

Chapter 3

As always, I really appreciate your support and feedback. Paraclete’s Promise: The Fantastic Fantasies Of Timothy is the first book in the Paraclete’s Promise saga. While this book is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple, the second book is in progress. Enjoy.


 

4—Partners And The Prize

Tim was petrified; heart pounding, breathing shallow. All around him, bleeps and blips of the electronics on the console sounded off, running through routine pod operation. Static lit through his left ear again.

“Unlock the hatch buddy. I’m on the way up. I don’t think it’s safe to turn on the lights yet, so keep an eye out for me.”

Tim’s heart rate slowed. Shallow breaths became long tugs. His hands steadied.

“Tim, are you there?”

“Roger that; I’m keeping an eye out for you.”

Tim rolled the captain’s chair within reach, and slowly sat down. The soft stretch of the supple leather and pneumatic hiss of the chair’s cylinder, under his weight, were welcomed sounds. He rolled the chair up to the control panel and pressed a sequence of buttons, activating Jonah’s personal tracking device. Just above the control panel, the on screen readout placed Jonah approximately 700 feet away from the pod, and he was moving fast. His heart rate was slightly elevated, but otherwise his vital signs read normal. Tim set his arms against the soft armrests, and reclined. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.

How’s your adventure coming along? Much more exciting than a video game, I’ll bet? I’m with you.

Tim was so startled by the voice resonating in his head that he flipped the entire chair over backwards, crashing to the floor. But his trained muscles responded. With a quick roll, he was back up on his feet poised in a defensive stance, feverishly scanning the control room for another person, he hadn’t seen before. He pressed the com-link button as his eyes searched the room, top to bottom.

“What was that Jonah? I didn’t read; over?”

“What are you talking about? I didn’t say anything. Closing in on 250 feet; over?”

“Uh,” Tim faltered for a moment. “Yeah, roger that; 250 feet and closing.”

His eyes fell on the floor monitors to his left. Lying there, almost invisible against the high definition darkness of the ocean, was his bible. In the drab light of the dimly lit control room, the stainless steel hard cover book was a welcomed sight. He picked it up, opened to the last page and read the custom inscription written across the back cover.

To my brave explorer: May the Lord’s word be a shining light when you are surrounded by the darkness of the cold world.

Love Mom.

Tim’s thumb absently parted the pages. Flipping through, he smiled at the scripture he found. Dad once said the Holy Spirit would always watch his back. First Samuel 14:7 was a comforting scripture to have handy, alone in the dark.

“‘Do all that you have in mind,’ his armor-bearer said. ‘Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.’”

The words washed over his heart. The remnant of his fear seemed to melt away.

“If God is with me, who or what can stand against me?”

Scriptures flooded his mind, strengthening his spirit as he continued to recite miscellaneous lines from different books of the bible. Courage surged within his soul. He remembered bravery comes after great fear.

An alarm beeped, letting him know Jonah was within 50 feet of the pod. Tim set the bible onto the console, and ran through the control room door toward the rear end of the pod. He jumped and dodged miscellaneous cargo and equipment still cluttering the hallway. As he reached the wet room, toward the pod’s rear end, he flipped open a wall panel and punched in a sequence of commands on the illuminated key pad. A loud flush reverberated through the pod. Beneath his feet, a small room filled with ocean salt water. Glancing between the keypad monitor and the sealed peep hole beside his left foot, Tim watched the water level swallow the entire wet room, before closing the water jet ports. The monitor read out blinked a confirmation message across the screen: WET ROOM FILLED.

“All set up here, Jonah. I’m opening the hatch now.”

“Roger that, buddy. I’m at the hatch. Waiting for the pop.”

A large button on the keypad pulsed brilliant red. The monitor read out blinked, and Tim saw an overhead video feed of Jonah wading underneath the pod. A new message scrolled over the video feed: ESCAPE HATCH READY. Tim mashed his palm against the red button. The whole pod shook as the pneumatic cylinders of the hatch swung the three-piece sealed doors out toward the ocean floor. Tim watched Jonah swim up through the opening, then sit down on a stainless steel bench molded into the smooth circular walls of the wet room. Tim smiled as he recognized Jonah’s diving suit. It was amazing to see the body molded flat air tank, the high tech diving helmet with its polarized lens, the retractable flippers and personal water jets protruding from his belt.

“Ready when you are.” Jonah said. “While I decompress, get your suit ready. You’re gonna want to come back down with me.”

“Did you find something good?”

“Oh yeah, I did!”

“Sweet! I’m setting the decompression sequence now. Have a nap for ten minutes.”

“You read my mind, buddy.”

Tim tapped at the keypad. The doors of the escape hatch shushed closed, shifting the pod again. Behind the steel bulkhead to his left, he heard a whooshing sound as the machinery simultaneously pumped the water from the wet room and decompressed the chamber. He watched the monitor read out for a moment, making sure the sequence progressed slowly. As the water pumped out through the jet ports, recessed in the walls of the wet room, oxygen filled the damp room.

“Hey, do me a favor, will ya,” Jonah said. “Try not to decompress me too fast. Last mission, you almost made my head explode.”

Tim laughed, as a memory of Jonah screaming like a baby suddenly filled his mind.

“Yeah, I’m sorry about that. I rushed through the process. Looks like you’re decompressing at a good rate, this time though.”

“Good. Go on and get geared. I’ll keep an eye on the sequence from down here.”

“Roger that, Jonah.”

Tim looked down through the peep hole. Jonah flashed him two thumbs-up. A renewed wave of excitement came over Tim, as he walked up the narrow hallway toward his locker. He gently lifted the latch, slowly opened the vented door and marveled at the sight of his very own dive suit.

“Whoa, sweet,” he whispered.

Tim stroked a finger across the shoulder pad of the suit, hanging from a hefty steel hook. The material felt like soft leather, but was rigid like plastic. The whole one-piece suit seemed to be fashioned out of emerald scales. Each scale shimmered as his finger rubbed down its blunt edge, and pricked his finger, as he trailed back up against the scales. As he pulled the suit out, the hook retracted into the sidewall of the locker and a small compartment opened. A stainless steel shelf slid out of the open hole, with a dive helmet resting atop it.

Tim draped the suit over his shoulder and watched the helmet slowly spin on top of the shelf. Two bug-eye shaped polarized lens, two tiny holes on the nose bridge, and a glowing open slit across the mouth made the helmet look like an alien head, from a comic book. The ears were shaped as small bubbles; speakers for the radio. Across the top of the helmet, he saw a leather fin stretching from the crown to the back of the helmet. Retracted now, it looked like a flat green ponytail. But, Tim knew that fin opened up in the water, to help maneuver his suit while swimming. He lifted the light weight helmet from its spinning stalk, and the shelf retracted into the sidewall of the locker. As the compartment closed, another compartment opened on the opposite sidewall, revealing an air tank shaped like a flattened book bag.

Tim saw a green light pulsing on the yellow metallic surface of the tank.

“Fully charged and ready for use,” he said.

He set the helmet on the floor beside him, and removed the tank from its magnetized charging hub, with his free hand. The compartment closed, and a computer voice chimed.

DIVE SUIT DIAGNOSTICS COMPLETED. FULLY CHARGED AND READY FOR USE. HAVE A NICE SWIM MR. SMITH.”

The locker closed automatically. As the latch clicked shut, a small stainless steel bench slid out from the wall behind Tim. He sat down and climbed into the suit, feet first. The inside was lined with a warm, soft material that felt like silky fur against his body. As he pulled the zipper up to his chin, he gasped as the suit compressed against his body, to form a tight yet comfortable fit.

“Wow, this is so cool.”

Tim lifted the air tank from the bench and slid his left arm through the shoulder strap. The tank seemed to move with a mind of its own, centering itself across his back with an electronic hum. The right shoulder strap automatically flipped over his right collar bone, across his chest, and magnetically connected to the left shoulder strap.

“Whoa,” he yelled.

A retractable belt cinched around his waist, from one side of the tank, to the other. As soon as the belt pulled tight, Tim saw a series of tiny lights strobe across his waist. A computer voice chimed from the belt.

TANK SECURE. POWER LEVEL AT 100 PERCENT, MR. SMITH.”

Everything fit perfectly and comfortably, as if the suit had been specially designed for him. He looked at his gloved hands and noticed the rubber webbing between the fingers. He watched the light-show reflecting from his utility belt. He was so enthralled with the technology of the suit, that he didn’t notice Jonah standing directly in front of him.

“Ha! You’re looking at that thing like it’s the first time you’ve ever put it on!”

Tim looked up. His mouth fell agape and his knees suddenly unhinged. He dropped to the floor, never releasing his gaze on Jonah. He could have been staring into a mirror at the moment.

“Hey, are you alright?” Jonah dropped to his knees and reached for Tim, who skirted backward. “Tim, it’s okay. It’s just me; your ole pal, J-Man. Take it easy.”

Tim mumbled as he stared into the hazel eyes of his twin. The wisp of freckles across the bridge of his nose; same bushy black eyebrows; same dimpled cheeks; same haircut; Jonah was the perfect clone. His mind struggled to register what his eyes were seeing.

“Jonah?” he finally mustered.

“Yeah, buddy. That’s the name I was born with.” Jonah flashed a smile. “Breathe slowly.”

Tim shut his eyes and shook his head, silently praying that God would make sense of this whole experience. When he opened them, Jonah stood above him; a gloved hand reaching to pull him up off the floor. Tim slowly reached for his hand. Jonah yanked him from the floor, to his feet and clapped him on the shoulder.

“There ya go! What was that all about, brother?”

“Sorry. I…I was…just…surprised to see me…you…standing there…staring at me.”

“Hey, if you liked my little stealth approach, you’re going to love what I brought back with me.”

Jonah reached for a thigh pocket weaved into the left leg of his suit. As soon as the snap was undone, a yellow glow illuminated the hallway. Jonah reached into the pocket and palmed something that he’d found on his excursion outside of the pod. The glow seemed to radiate from both ends of his closed fist as he raised his arm over his head triumphantly. He tapped a button on his diving belt and the pod’s ceiling lights switched off.

“Wow. Jonah, what is it?” Tim raised a hand to shield his eyes from the light.

“I found it, Tim! I’ve found a whole chest full of these things down there in the cave. I opened that chest and almost went blind from the golden glow of the stuff. I think opening the chest probably alerted the beast, you know? Like he was some sort of watch dog for the stuff or something.”

Tim shielded his eyes with both hands now as he tried to get a closer look at the object.

“Jonah, how in the world did you ever get close enough to grab one?”

“That’s the funny thing,” Jonah said. His eyes were ablaze. “Move in close and you’ll see what I mean.”

Tim moved closer, still cupping both hands over his brow. At the same time, Jonah opened his hand and swung his arm down to waist level. The closer he moved toward Jonah’s hand, the object began to take shape, no longer shrouded by intense light.

“Can you see it? Tim, it’s as if these things were calling for someone to find them. The farther away I was from the opened chest, the brighter they seemed to glow. The closer I stepped toward them, the luster changed from gold to yellow and the glow faded just enough for me to see that they were shaped like—”

“Peanuts? This thing looks like a golden peanut, Jonah. A box full of golden peanuts! We’ve found the lost treasure of the pirates of Camoon!  Let’s go get them all!”

“Yeah, now you’re talking, brother!” As Jonah turned toward the wet room, he flipped the golden peanut through the air, toward Tim. “Your good luck charm. Hang on to it. There’s a lot more, where that one came from.”

Tim shoved the peanut into a small pocket on the arm of his suit. He scooped up the dive helmet from the floor, and quickly followed Jonah to the wet room. Somewhere below them, a lost treasure awaited.

Just Ask, Doofus

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Jack and Jill sat on a hilltop staring at a doorway, standing among a vast dandelion field. The stainless steel doorposts and lintel gleamed in the bright summer sunlight. The door was crafted of dark oak; no discerning marks; no ornate carvings etched into its surface; pretty dull actually. It was adorned with a simple satin nickle plated knob; your basic Home Depot $3.97 variety.

Jack–a gym lunk–had circled this door a hundred times over the last few hours, trying his best to figure out why in the world a doorway stood in the middle of a dandelion field, at the top of a hill. The back mirrored the front, and both sides were locked. Despite his great strength, he couldn’t force his way through; couldn’t break off the knob; couldn’t even kick over the whole assembly. Every few minutes, he’d sit down just long enough to allow his anger to reset.

Jill–a quiet, dainty librarian–had simply sat quietly staring at the door and mused over Jack’s antics. Something about the atmosphere of their surroundings was soothing. A light summer breeze lifted her bangs. The yellow sea of dandelions amid the green ocean of summer grass, underneath a perfect blue sky was invigorating. And then, there were the voices resonating from behind the door.

“How the %$#& can you continue sitting there with that stupid smile on your face,” Jack ranted. “You hear them in there calling us! Get off your @$$ and think of way to get in, nerd!”

Jill simply giggled at the laughter echoing beyond the locked door. “Not yet,” she replied. Her voice small and coy.

“Whadaya mean, ‘Not yet’!” Jack yelled. “We’ve been out here forever! You know what? Whatever geek!”

Jack set his feet and squat into a dead-lift stance. Jill raised an eyebrow, as she watched him.

“I’ll get that %$#&*!@ door open,” Jack grunted. He tucked his arms into his sides, inhaled deep and pushed within, straining.

Jill watched as Jack’s tanned apricot complexion shifted toward maroon. His neck sprouted mighty veins. His taut muscles popped sinewy strands underneath his sweaty skin. His face contorted. A mighty wind sifted and uprooted dandelions, grass and chunks of earth around his trembling body. He was enveloped by a ominous purple light, as the chaos circled him like a stationary tornado. Jack roared. The winds stopped, and the debris settled. He dropped to a knee, puffing shallow breaths.

“Now we’re talkin’,” he groaned. Laying on the ground, in a scorched earth-patch before Jack, was a tattered black leather duffle bag. He glanced up at Jill; a smirk curled his lips. “Don’t bother to get up, nerd. I’ll get us in that door in no time, flat. You just sit your pretty little head there, and ol’ Jack’s gonna handle this.”

Jill smiled and shook her head. “Not yet,” she replied.

“Oh no?” Jack laughed. He unzipped the bag, reached deep inside and pulled out a DP-12, double-barrel, pump repeater, tactical 12-gauge shotgun. Jack stood up and racked the weapon.

CLACK-CLACK

“I think now.” Jack said, as he squared the weapon against his right shoulder and squeezed the trigger twice.

THOOM-THOOM!

The shotgun thundered cannon fire. Dust flew through the air. Flames shot from each barrel. Smoking shell casings flew over Jill’s head, as the shots exploded against the oak door, in a brilliant puff of smoke.

“Ha, ha; woo!” Jack  screamed. “Open sesame! Did you see that, lil’ lady? Let’s–”

Jack’s triumphant gloating shrank into morbid unbelief.

“What the %$#&!” he screamed, as the smoke cleared revealing the unblemished door. Jack squared off, and aimed the weapon again.

Jill covered her ears, and shut her eyes. Still, the constant CLACK-CLACK and THOOM-THOOM of the weapon was deafening. When the rancid gun-powder smoke dissipated, the door remained; posts and lintel still gleaming; the oak surface unmarked by the barrage of gunfire. Jill smiled.

“Not yet.”

“Shut up, you geek!” Jack yelled. He launched the shotgun through the air, then rifled through the duffle bag again, muttering curses as his arms sank elbow deep into the mysterious void.

Jill watched the drama unfold with a whimsical smile. She saw Jack’s exasperation melt as his hands clearly wrapped around something heavy, deep within the bag. He stood up and yanked out an M134 gatling machine gun. Its 0.30 caliber bullets ammunition belt disappeared into the void of the duffle bag. Jack hoisted the weapon and ran 10 feet toward the door, dragging the endless belt through the grass.

“Open up, mutha f–”

Jack’s offensive barrage was cut off by the explosion of the weapon’s rapid fire. At point blank range, Jill saw nothing but sparking ricocheting rounds and engulfing white smoke. Despite the protection of her hands, her ears rang as the weapon spit fire and mayhem at the door. Jack’s muscles rippled against the recoil of the awesome weapon. Grass and Dandelions around him were ripped from the ground by the shear force of the gun’s mighty power.

Finally, the last of the ammunition belt snaked its way from the bag through the gun feeder. Jack released the gun and it crashed to the barren earth beneath his feet. As the summer breeze cleared the smoke, Jill smiled once again.

“No! How can this be?! Don’t you say a  %$#&*!@ word, Jill!”

“Jack–”

“No! I said shut up! I can open that door! Just you wait!”

Jack stomped back toward the duffle bag, trailing a flurry of obscenities in his wake. Jill slowly stood, and stretched.

Jack?” She called.

“Shut up! Not a word, geek! As soon as I find this RPG 7 rocket launcher, I’m gonna blow that door apart!”

Jill sighed, then turned toward the door. Jack was too busy rummaging through the duffle bag to notice her dainty skirt casually swishing through the easy breeze. As she approached the smooth oak door–not so much as a scratch across its surface–Jill turned back to Jack, with a sympathetic glance.

“Now,” she whispered. Jill lightly rapped three times across the door. A deep soothing voice thundered through the blue sky.

WHO IS IT?”

“It’s me, Lord: Jill. I’d very much like to come in and stay with you.” Jill replied.

YOU ARE WELCOMED HERE, JILLOPEN THE DOOR AND ENTER GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT.”

Jill gently twisted the knob and the door cracked opened, flooding the dandelion field with an indescribably beautiful and radiant light. The voices–once muffled behind the locked door–now sang out a glorious hymn. Jill slipped through the crack, smiling ear to ear. She turned back once, beaming at Jack. Then, slipping through the opening, the door shut behind her.


 

Jack heard the voice of the Lord thunder across the blue sky and immediately knew who was speaking. Rage and fear surged through his veins, as he shot a glance toward the door.

“No! Wait!” He screamed. “Wait for me!”

Less than fifteen feet away, there was Jill turning the knob. Jack sprang to his feet, but his first step landed in quicksand, where the dandelion field had recently been. The path before him lay in desolation where his weaponry had wrecked havoc across the beautiful field. He struggled to advance. Suddenly, the door cracked open and Jack was blinded and burned by a light brighter than the noonday sun. He wailed.

“Wait for me!”

The harder he struggled, the faster he sank. Just before the sands of sin swallowed him and his eyes submerged, Jack saw Jill smile at him as she slipped through the doorway to heaven.

 

James 4:2-3 (NKJV) – “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

 

Friends Remembered: A Tale of the Fallen

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When I lost my Mom to cancer back in 2007, I turned to World of Warcraft, as an escape. It was right around the time of its third expansion, “Wrath of the Lich King”. I crafted my own hero and eventually wrote backstory for his inception. This is the story of Fallinchas; risen death knight.

MOUNTING THE ASSAULT

Heat and warmth remain absent from this place as howling winds wail.  Bitter cold restricts snowfall from blanketing the battle hardened lands.  The smell of ash intermingled with rancid decay overwhelm the senses and numb the mind to all things pleasant and comforting.  This is Ice Crown.  The entire region serves as the gateway to a frozen evil unlike any ever experienced.  Only the very brave venture into these lands and only a few ever return with their souls intact.  Despite the unbearable conditions and the dark overcast skies, the sounds of war ring out among the desolate terrains.  From the borders of Crystal Song forest, to the Saronite forged steps of the Citadel, chaos and mayhem ensue as alliance and horde forces engage not only droves of undead and Scourge converts, but Cult of the Damned members as well.

A small band of the Argent Crusade succeeded in penetrating Scourge opposition and had advanced to the great stairway leading toward the entrance to Ice Crown Citadel.  They were ambushed by a rogue group of Horde bandits who had arrived and slaughtered members of the Cult of the Damned.  Though outnumber three-to-one, the ten-man Argent Crusade contingent pressed hard against the enemy, under the leadership of their death knight commander.  This group had resolved not to fall within mere sight of the citadel entrance.

Fallinchas stood fast atop the first massive step, peering upward.  The enemy battalion, flanking from the left and the right, had the advantage of higher ground over his band of alliance.  But impossible odds had never stopped the death knight before, and today would be no different.  He slowly unsheathed his two-handed sword, and raised the weapon to the skies above.  While sizing up the opposition, he rallied his small troop of crusaders.

“We do not stop here,” he commanded while staring into the eyes of his companions.  His cold blue gaze spoke directly into the hearts of each soldier.

“We will not fall to these vagabonds, standing in our path!  Clearly, they operate outside of the treaty binding the Alliance and the Horde together against the Lich King’s combined forces.  Therefore, we show them no mercy! You are honored knights of the Argent Crusade, and our glorious passing will not happen on these steps, this day!  Our destiny lies behind the walls of the citadel.  Take up your arms once again, and silence these Horde dogs!  Their final thoughts and last sights will center on our band of brothers and sisters bent on their total destruction!  Death awaits all who oppose us!”

Fallinchas’ rally cry emboldened the alliance contingent.  With weapons drawn, the ten Argent Crusaders, led by the death knight, stormed the 30-man Horde battalion up the steps, where they collided with the enemy fearlessly.

CASUALTIES OF WAR

Fallinchas’ enchanted dancing Mourning Malice blade cut through the air with a blinding force.  Each swipe of the hovering sword sliced deep lacerations into the back-side of a large orc warrior’s plate armor.  There was nothing the beast-man could do to stop the rear flanking onslaught.  For the moment, his full attention focused toward defending himself against the frontal attack of Fallinchas.  This human wielded the physical Mourning Malice blade with skill, the likes of which the orcish warrior had never before encountered.  To make matters worse, the death knight’s blood worms nipped at both armor clad ankles.  The orc tried, in vain, to parry the human’s advances, while evading the worms.  Suddenly, gnashing teeth cut through the warrior’s thick plated wrist-guard, subduing his weapon arm.  The orc warrior stole a desperate glance, immediately right, to find a risen ghoul latched onto his arm, incapacitating his axe.  In that split second, the human death knight struck with horribly accurate speed.  The orc felt a sudden sharp stab to his abdomen, followed by extreme cold piercing and spreading throughout his torso, the freezing cold of the blade dulling the pain.  Eyes wide, the warrior slowly gazed down to find the death knight’s sword buried hilt-deep within his chest.  Orcish strength gave way to darkness as the warrior’s limp body slid free of the freezing blade.  The death knight, had just claimed a Horde victim.

Without pause, Fallinchas trained his sights on the next foe, crossing his path up the stairway.  His left arm flew outward, unleashing the Death Grip on an unsuspecting blood elf paladin, binding her around the neck.  The blood elf was hoist through the freezing air and dropped limp at his feet.  Temporarily dazed by the attack, she collapsed to the frozen steps as Fallinchas followed the initial attack, with an Icy Touch spell.

“Lor’Themar Theron forgive you, sister paladin,” Fallinchas whispered to the blood elf lying at his feet, paralyzed with Frost Fever.  He slowly raised his sword over head then brought the weapon crashing down in a Death Strike, silencing the paladin forever.

Surveying his surroundings, Fallinchas saw that his comrades had decimated the remnant of the horde attackers.  A few crusaders appeared to be wounded, but still able to continue on, as the group’s shaman and priestess of the moon performed their respective duties.  Fallinchas yelled in victorious delight and led the Argent Crusaders charging up the steps of Ice Crown Citadel.  The alliance group reached the top plateau and lifted their combined weaponry in celebration, while facing the massive entrance to the Citadel.

As the group reveled in victory, a troll howl pierced the air from behind and down the steps.  Fallinchas spun on his heels, his weapon at the ready, but he was too late to save Dothranis.  A poison tipped arrow blazed through the air, shot from a hunter’s bow.  The troll had feigned death during the melee and had since stealthy climbed the stairs and maneuvered around the Draenei shaman.  Dothranis screamed in agony as the arrow punctured his back, and protruded through his chest, sending the shaman crumpling to the frozen Saronite plateau.  Fallinchas leaped at the assailant before the troll could reload his bow, slashing with an Obliterate-swing of his sword.  The mortally wounded hunter dropped and roll to the bottom of the great staircase, dead before his body fell still on the frozen ground below.

“Cursed Darkspear Troll!” Fallinchas yelled.

He rushed to the side of his fallen friend.  Dothranis lay still on the plateau, Draenei blood already pooling around his body and beginning to freeze in the frigid air of Ice Crown.  Fallinchas placed a hand over Dothranis’ chest; the other behind his friend’s head.  He desperately glanced at Shala, the contingent’s priestess, who met his gaze with a mournful glance of her own.

“My Lord…he’s gone. The poison’s work was instantaneous,” she whispered.

“Is there nothing we may do to bring our brother back, Shala,” he asked.

“No, my Lord.  May Elune guide his spirit to peace,” she said, as the others gathered around.

Fallinchas stared into the dead frozen eyes of his comrade, fighting to maintain some sense of equanimity.  How had he allowed this to happen?  Dothranis was not five feet away from him; standing by his side just as he had done a thousand times before tonight.  How would he go on knowing he had failed his friend?  Had he allowed his emotions to get the best of him…yet again?  Had he inadvertently killed his best friend, in a selfish burst of greed-driven revenge?  Guilt ridden thoughts swirled through his mind, stirring up ghosts of the past.  The death knight exploded in a burst of rage, screaming to the heavens, shaking his fists at the cracking lightning bolts as they crisscrossed the skies above.  Exhausted, Fallinchas collapsed over the body of Dothranis.  “I have failed you, Dot,” he whispered.  The death knight gently fanned a hand over the Draenei’s stone face, lowering his eyelids, then pulled the fallen Shaman’s tabard over his contorted face.

“Go with honor, my friend Dot.  Light be with you,” Fallinchas murmured.

He closed his eyes and slowly stood over the body of his good friend.  A lone teardrop descended his brown cheek, freezing above his strong jaw.  Fallinchas wiped the blood-splayed Mourning Malice blade against his Ebon Blade tabard-tail, sheathed the weapon, then turned to address the remaining members of his contingent.  He motion for Shala to come closer.  Now was not the time for loved ones to hide their true feelings.  Pulling the night elf priestess tight against his body, she fell into his arms, her warmth granting him a small bit of comfort.  She burst into tears, while pounding a weak fist across his broad chest.

“Be strong, my love,” he whispered, “for our fallen friend, and for our remaining companions.”

He realized the death of Dothranis would demoralize the group.  They would need time to recuperate and refocus on the mission.  As Shala’s sobs began to subside, Fallinchas gently lifted her chin and gazed into her elven eyes.  Again she met the cold blue gaze of his glowing pupils and seemed to understand his thoughts.  Courage my love those eyes seems to say.  She composed herself enough to wipe flowing tears from her cheeks, and rejoined the remaining eight Argent Crusaders standing before their leader.  Fallinchas straighten his stance, rolled his shoulders back, inhale deeply, and peered at each member of his small team.

“Dothranis…was a loyal soldier in the continuous fight against all powers of Darkness, throughout Azeroth.  A devoted Resto-shaman, Dot was an exceptional offensive fighter, and a beloved friend as well.  He saved my life on more than one occasion, and I regret my failure in saving his tonight.”

The death knight lowered his eyes toward the blood soaked Argent Crusade tabard draped across the chest of Dothranis.  Shala gently squeezed his arm, bringing him back to focus.  Regrouping, he continued.

“We each knew the dangers associated with this mission.  We understood that the chances of our successful return were, and are, minuscule at best.  The Alliance chose us to storm the entrance first, because we accepted the impossible odds.  Dothranis was no different than any one of you, or I.  Tonight, we’ve lost a champion to our cause.  We will camp here, at the top of the great steps.  We rest, and honor our fallen brother, before carrying on to face the Lich King.”

THE RESPITE

Fallinchas’ squire, Tomas Billbrat, never ceased to amaze him.  Whenever summoned, the chipper young boy would faithfully take stock of his surroundings and then offer a positive outlook on the conditions his Lord had called him into.  Shortly after Fallinchas and his band of crusaders had performed an impromptu mourning service for Dothranis, Shala called on the spirit of Elune and released the Draenei’s soul to the spirits of Azeroth.  The Draenei’s body had slowly transformed into floating specks of white dust, leaving his garb and weapons behind.  Fallinchas had blown the squire’s whistle, summoning Tomas, who materialized out of thin air in a puff of purple smoke.  Without so much as a single word from Fallinchas, the young boy immediately collected the shaman’s remaining belongings into his mystic sack of endless pockets.  The items would be returned to the order of the Argent Crusade, upon Tomas’ return to Dalaran.  Tomas admiringly looked up into the eyes of his weary Lord, and Fallinchas returned his look, with a forced smile.

“My Lord…Dot was an honorable friend to you, yes?  I believe his soul will find peace among his forefathers.  Do not grieve for him any longer, sire.  I feel…his struggle has ended.”

Fallinchas patted the young boy’s golden blond head, and knelt on one knee to meet Tomas’ smiling face.

“Young man, you are wise beyond your years, and you always bring me tidings of peace when I need them.  Thank you, Tomas.  How about we erect the tent for the night?  Where would you choose as a suitable spot, among the wreckage and carnage strewn before us?”

Tomas walked among the huddled group of crusaders, smiling salutations to the dwarven warriors, passing words of encouragement to the human paladins, shaking the hands of the gnomish rogues, snapping off a sharp salute to the night elf hunter while offering a snack to his pet Worg, Fangor, and bowing deeply before the night elf priestess of the moon, Shala.  Finally, the young squire pointed to an enormous ancient petrified-wooden catapult positioned far left and away from the great entrance.  Fallinchas nodded his approval then roused the crusaders to begin erecting the frost-weave tent for the night’s camp.

With the tent erected around the base of the abandoned catapult, Tomas produced a camp fire under the center spire of the shelter.  Soon, the aroma of a fish feast and freshly brewed brown-butter mead filled the confined space and invigorated the tired crusaders, as they slowly filed into the large tent and gathered around the bonfire.

Dimpkin, one of the dwarven warriors, had been posted atop the catapult as lookout while the tent was erected.  The smells of freshly cooked fish, coupled with the sweetness of the warm mead wafted through the tent’s exhaust ports, beckoning the dwarf to leave post, and join the others.

“With your permission, my Lord…” he began, as he entered the tent.

“Permission granted, my friend.  Please join us,” Fallinchas said as he waved the dwarf into the circle.  Fallinchas rested cross-legged before the bonfire, and looked to his squire while eating the meal the boy had prepared.  Tomas lay on the frost-weave carpeted floor toward the back of the tent; his pack resting against one the catapult columns.  The young boy was busying himself rubbing the Worg’s belly as he fed the creature.  Fallinchas smiled at the ridiculous sight.  He slowly glanced around the fire to see his remaining companions all settling in and eating.  Casual discussions began floating through the air.  Once again, Tomas had granted Fallinchas’ group a small respite from the dangers and sorrow that lie ahead.

“Tomas, you’ve done a fine job here, young man.  You are free to return to the High Council to report on our progress…and casualty.  Tell the high lord, we plan to advance on the citadel proper at first light.” The young boy stood and bowed deeply.

“I will, sire.  I look forward to your return, my Lord.  Please watch over lady Shala in my absence,” the young squire bantered, causing the circle of crusaders to erupt in spontaneous laughter.

“Get out of here, before I–” Fallinchas started, but was not surprised to see the young squire enveloped in a purple cloud once again.  A trumpet call blared from the center of the cloud, and the puff vanished leaving purple tendrils of smoke dispersing through the air.  Nnimrod, the group’s night-elf hunter, spoke softly.

“That boy never fails to lighten the mood, does he?”

“Aye, that he does,” Dimpkin affirmed.  The dwarf warrior exchanged glances between Shala and Fallinchas across the bonfire, while stuffing fish between the puffy braided whiskers of his mustache covered lips.  Mead dripped sloppily from his whiskers.  “So when was it that ye picked that boy up, my Lord?”

Shala snickered as she grasped Fallinchas’ right hand.  The death knight seemed to recall a thought, and threw his head back into a boisterous laugh, his voice echoing through the large tent.

“Tomas has been my Argent squire for almost two years now.  Dothranis actually waged a bet with Shala, that I’d kill the boy inside of six months of acquiring him, but his ludicrous sense of humor grew on me”.  The crusaders erupted into laughter again.  Fallinchas, looked to Shala and spoke absently.  “She’s always known me, better than I’ve known myself since my return to Stormwind.”

The laughter throughout the tent slowly died, as the crusaders each looked to their leader.  Silence swept through the tent for what seemed like ages before one of the human paladins, Nerra, broke the proverbial ice.

“My Lord…what was it like, to die a paladin…and to be reborn, as a Death Knight?”  As if realizing the gravity of the question, Nerra quickly recanted.  “Forgive my intrusion, my lord,” she said bowing while fumbling her silver goblet of mead.  The drink spilled into the fire, igniting, and sending a burst of blue flame into the warm air.  “I meant no disrespect.  I fear the mead has relaxed my sensibilities a touch.”

“No apologies are necessary Nerra,” Fallinchas said.  The death knight stood and raised his own goblet toward the fire.  The golden cup, with its scarlet ruby-encrusted gems encircling its rim, twinkled by the light of the bonfire.  As Fallinchas stared at his reflection within the polished surface of the goblet, he remembered the day it was given as a gift, from Dothranis.  ‘To remind you, that you will always be a Champion of the Knights of the Silver Hand, dear friend,’ he had said.

Fallinchas sighed.  It was time for him to share his tale, with these loyal followers who stood by his side.  Most of the crusaders had served under his leadership for quite some time.  Yet none, save for Shala, knew his story.  Tonight might be the last time the tight knit group would find peace together.  He owed them his life’s tale.  Fallinchas looked down to his right, at the night elf woman who had remained by his side for all these years.  Shala smiled back at him, seeming to read his mind.

“It is time, my lord,” she whispered.  The crusaders exchanged puzzled looks before settling all eyes on their leader standing broad-shouldered before the fire.

“My friends…you have each stood by me through the toughest encounters imaginable.  Our successes have proven the level of our abilities to our superiors, time and again.  Over the years, I have hand-picked each one of you, because you were the elite among your former affiliates.  I know each of you personally…” he said, training his cold hearted blue stare from one pair of eyes to the next, until he had circled the group.  “Yes, I know you all down to your very core…even you Fangore.  And I am deeply proud of you all.  I am humbled by the reality that tonight may be our last, as one.  So…allow me to…regale you all, with a tale I’m sure many may not know.  But first.”  Fallinchas hefted the large goblet to his lips and drained the mead in five huge gulps.  “For my friend Dothranis: may your soul rest peacefully, until we meet, again.”

The crusaders rose to their feet and toasted in unison, to Dothranis.  As they all sat again, Fallinchas inhaled deeply, closed his eyes, and began to speak.

“A lifetime ago, my name was Chasiah Stromgarde.  I was slain by my friend, Arthas Menethil.”

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS OF A PALADIN

During my childhood, I was raised in the Elwynn Forest valley of Northshire.  My father supported my mother and I by working in the Fargodeep mines, while we tended the farm.  The work was hard for me, as I recall, but provided the ethic I would someday need in later years.  Oft times, my father would teach me the basic art of swordsmanship to help protect the farm from the ever increasing threat of the Defias Brotherhood. 

The summer of my 11th year, my father was slain defending the Fargodeep mines from an invasion of kobolds.  That same season, my mother was killed during a Defias Brotherhood attack on our farm.  I fled the valley, and found myself under the care of the Stormwind Orphan Matron shortly thereafter.

 I remember being adopted by Thamore and Sarah Thomas, at the age of 12.  The Thomas’ had no children of their own, and welcomed me into their home, despite my troubled past.  Rebellion on my part caused strife between my surrogate parents and I, in the beginning.  I was filled with so much rage and hatred toward others, never putting to rest the anger I harbored over the deaths of my parents.  But the Thomas’ were patient in their rearing of me.  Sarah eventually defeated my inward defenses with love and kindness, while Thamore earned my respect with a constant show of quiet strength.  In time, I discovered Mr. Thomas to be an accomplished Paladin; a member of the Order of the Knights of the Silver Hand, no less.  At some point during my first few years with the Thomas’, Thamore discovered my penchant for swordplay.  To counteract the anger nestled deep within me, I began to study and practice the ways of the Paladin under my surrogate father’s tutelage.

At 15, I was sent to Lordaeron, to continue Paladin training, under Sir Uther the Lightbringer.  It was during that time that I became acquainted with the young Prince of the Menethil lineage, Arthas.  He was older than I, by two years, but our relative size and skills quickly conjoined us as competitive and respectful counterparts, during training sessions.  Arthas’ strength was incredible, even at that young age.  As such, he was always one step ahead of me, but the challenge of defeating the prince motivated me to work that much more diligently at my craft.  Rarely did I see the prince outside of training, but the few and far between moments we did spend together, were pleasant.  He was an imposing figure whose very presence demanded immediate respect and full attention.  But he was also very kind as he studied the ways of the Holy Light.  In retrospect…I idolized Arthas, for a time. 

With my studies nearing completion, Sir Uther sent me home to complete my formal Paladin training in Stormwind.  I was present…the day prince Arthas took the Oath of Light, becoming a member of the Order of the Knights of the Silver Hand.  How I envied and admired him.  I yearned to follow in the footsteps of the prince and my father, Thamore. 

By the time of my return to the White City, emissaries and students from the greens of Darnassus to the cavernous hollows of Ironforge, and even the great halls of the Exodar, had taken up residence behind our gloriously high stone walls.  It was during this time that I became acquainted with a young and brash Draenei, training in the ways of the Shaman Order and studying the hidden knowledge of the Light at the Cathedral.  As I recall on the day I made Dothranis, he quarreled with me over a Giantus Apple. 

THE BOND SEALED

Fallinchas paused for a moment as he opened his eyes and stared into the flames.  He shut his eyes again, and silently reflected.  The memories flooded his mind like a waterfall, and he relayed every bit of nuance, every smell, every sense of touch and feel of that day to his comrades.  It all seemed as fresh as this very moment in time, for the death knight.

The day was hot and humid, and the fountain spray floating through the air, from the Stormwind central square, did little to cool down the patrons gathered around the vendor carts.  Summer fairs always offered the promise of exquisite imports of food and trinkets normally only found outside the walls of the White City.  At a fruit vendor cart parked just below the steps of the city’s bank, trouble brewed between two young alliance recruits.

“Human if you do not release this apple immediately, I shall not be held responsible for the forthcoming thrashing you shall receive.” Dothranis held a tight grip on the human’s wrist.  Who did this tiny man believe himself to be?  Dothranis easily stood a full six inches above this brown-skinned, spike-haired arrogant young paladin.  The man-child was clearly in outstanding physical shape for a human, but that would not intimidate Dothranis in the least.  He had spied the Giantus Apple, the moment the luscious fruit spilled into the vendor’s trough, from the supply sack.

“See here you Draenei devil, you will release me at once, and choose another apple!  This trough is full of fruit.  You should learn the art of speed, along with your Shamanistic training routine,” Chasiah teased.  His left hand palmed the 12 inch golden yellow apple as he raised his right hand preparing to fire off a judgment-spell against his adversary.  The Draenei was huge, and held tight to Chasiah’s wrist.  His blue chin tendrils seemed to rattle as the Shaman scowled at Chasiah, in frustration.  His left hand was raised in a defensive posture, Chasiah was unfamiliar with.  But the paladin refused to relinquish the rare fruit.  These apples were usually seen in Stormwind only once or twice in a season, and one would be lucky just to see one, let alone have the opportunity to taste its intoxicating sweetness.

Just as the Shaman readied to cast a Static Shock attack, the duo were levitated three feet off the ground, and whisked in opposite directions.  Chasiah was thrown into the fountain, quickly lunging to his feet to draw his weapon, but found himself entangle in his own cloak.  The paladin lost his footing and crashed back into the cool water.  Meanwhile, Dothranis had landed face first into a thicket beside the eastern mailbox, his hoofed-feet flailing through the air as he attempted to free himself.  The apple floated toward and landed neatly into the outstretched palms of a tall, slender purple skinned young night elf priestess.

Fallinchas opened his eyes and rolled them toward Shala.  “You’d stolen the one and only Giantus apple I’ve ever come into close contact with, my lady”, he said as he mocked a choking gesture at the priestess.

“I did my love.  It was the first Giantus apple I had ever seen up close, myself!  While you boys continued to bump chests, I decided to relieve you both of the object causing undue strife.  And lo’ the end result was a forged bond of the ages!”  Shala burst into glorious, contagious laughter and was soon joined by the others.

“That stubborn ox of a Draenei grabbed at my cloak and tugged me free of the fountain in one great pull.  I was in awe of his strength…” Fallinchas mused, “but, I was fully prepared to wage war on him.  That insane Shaman clapped me on the back, and erupted into that high pitched laughter of his.”

Fallinchas and Shala both shot their arms into the air, palms stretched to the heavens, mimicking the Draenei. Together, they shouted, “To the victor, goes the spoils!”

Shala wiped tears of joy from her eyes, recalling that faithful day the three future heroes met one another. “Oh how we all had laughed, my love.  It was truly the beginning of a friendship that would eventually cheat death itself.”  Shala stood before the fire, rocking from side to side; her gentle hands clasped over her heart.

Fallinchas pulled her close, and planted a soft kiss on her cheek, before lifting his goblet toward the fire again. “On the day I took the Oath of the Light to become a Knight of the Silver Hand, Dot presented this goblet to me.  He’d handcrafted it himself.  His jewel-crafting skills were extraordinary.  He placed this beautifully forged chalice into my hands and said to me, ‘Never forget this day. This is what you were born to do.  I give you this goblet to carry wherever your adventures may lead.  The battles may harden your heart to the Light; you may lose yourself to dark times.  This chalice shall be your compass, to remind you, that you will always be a Champion of the Knights of the Silver Hand, dear friend.’  My best friend knew…somehow…he just knew…the times would darken.  He knew I’d need something to always bring me back to where I belong.”

“My Lord, did Dot accompany you in many battles,” asked Peak, one of the contingent’s gnome rogues.  Fallinchas smiled at Peak, as he passed the goblet to the other rogue, Gunther, seated to his left.

“Dot stood by my side for countless encounters, my brothers and sisters,” the death knight announced.  “The Battle of Thorns; he saved my life from an orc’s bludgeon attack.  At the Siege of Honor Hold, orcs outnumbered the two of us by four to one.  Because of Dothranis’ defensive skill, I was able to return to Darnassus: to Shala.”

Staring into the bonfire, watching as the tongues of red and orange danced and the kindling popped, Fallinchas grasped at his Shard of Crystal Forest necklace. Shala placed a comforting hand on his shoulder pauldron. She knew her beloved so well.  She’d never heard him speak of the day that changed their three lives forever.  In her mind, she prayed to Elune, to grant strength and courage to her champion.

“Dot fought by my side, the day the defunct Knights of the Silver Hand faced off against Arthas, during the Scourge invasion of Lordaeron.  My friend watched Chasiah Stromgarde die at the hands of a death knight.  He could not save me, from Arthas.”

Watching the flames dance brought back memories of Lordaeron city ablaze.

DEATH OF A PALADIN

Uther’s murder had taken its toll on Chasiah.  Seeing the corpse of his former teacher, lying unceremoniously on the stone pathway, was enough to fill the young paladin with enough hatred to forgo all formal training.  He sought revenge.  Dothranis tried desperately to console Chasiah as the two led a small group of paladin forces through the streets of the city.  Everywhere they turned, the streets of Lordaeron had been overrun by the Scourge as evident by the animated corpses of undead civilians and converted soldiers wreaking havoc among the remnant of survivors.  The whole city was ablaze. Putrid green smoke choked the air, as fire and ash rained from the rooftops.

Chasiah charged fearlessly through the droves of undead, hell-bent on slaying Arthas personally.  If he could just find the death knight, he would avenge Uther’s death.  His small battalion charged up the main throughway, hacking and slashing as they progressed toward the center of the doomed city.  Dothranis supported his commander and friend, but feared the worse.

“Commander Stromgarde, we appear to be deviating from our original objective, sire.  Were we not supposed to search for and rescue any remaining survivors?” Dothranis pleaded.

“I want his head on a spit, Dot!  He’ll pay for killing the King and Uther!  I do not know what foul demon has possessed the prince, but I assure you, I plan to release it,” Chasiah roared.

The battalion had advanced on the city’s square, and prepared to storm the castle, when they were suddenly surrounded by Scourge.  Arthas stood atop the great steps of the castle entrance. The death knight clutched the magical urn containing his father’s ashes in the crook of his left arm.  The Frostmourne blade was raised to the burning skies, in his right hand.

Chasiah broke rank formation and charged through the Scourge-filled square, in a blind rage.  His two-handed blade swiped at anything in his path, as he charged toward Arthas.  The death knight leaped from his perch and bellowed at the paladin.  The Frostmourne blade cut down Scourge in his own path, as he charged the paladin.  Dothranis was caught in crossfire of allied and scourge battle, unable to break free and charge alongside his friend. He screamed out to Chasiah, in anguish.

“Chasiah, NO!  Wait for the battalion! Chas, please…wait for me!”

Chasiah weaved spells, slaughtered undead, and shoved at innocent survivors in his blood raged stampede toward Arthas.  The two combatants collided fiercely; the death knight’s Frostmourne blade shattered Chasiah’s enchanted blade and cut the chained Libram from the paladin’s waist.  It dangled limply from the remaining chain.  The two stood face to face, each taking up familiar defensive stances from their past.  Arthas scowled at the paladin, as he recognized his foe.

“Chasiah Stromgarde!  You dare to face me alone, you pitiful excuse for a paladin!  You were never able to best me in a match, and this encounter is far from practice, my old friend.  I will claim your soul, for your insolent defiance,” Arthas yelled at the paladin.

Chasiah produced a Crest of Lordaeron shield, and an enchanted red-glow short-sword.  The paladin squared his broad shoulders in preparation for a lunging melee attack.  His teeth were clenched, his brow furrowed, muscles tensed, he was prepared to send Arthas Menethill to the afterlife.

“You are a murderous traitor, Arthas!  Damn you for Uther, Lord Terenas, the Alliance, humankind!  I curse the ground you stand on, and I too am aware that this will be no practice, you dog!  Tonight, you die death knight!”

Chasiah lunged at the death knight, with uncanny speed.  For a moment, Arthas was taken by surprise, as the paladin’s blade struck the urn, sending it crashing to the ground beneath his feet.  It rolled a few yards away from the duel, undamaged.

Before Chasiah could strike out a second surprise attack, Arthas gripped the stock of his blade tight with both hands and parried the paladin’s next swing, then lashed out two quick chops, with the Frostmourne.  Both blows found only the surface of the paladin’s shield. He quickly pivoted on his heel, bringing his left leg crashing down into the paladin’s shield with a round-house kick.

Chasiah balanced his weight against the death knight’s brutal kick, but lost grip on the shield.  Before he could regain his grasp, a second kick sent the Crest of Lordaeron skidding along the worn cobblestone pathway. Chasiah immediately cast a Deflection spell, parrying the death knight’s swooping Frostmourne chop.  As Arthas recoiled from the parry, Chasiah swung wildly, cutting the death knight’s plate leg armor.

Arthas hobbled for a split second, and dropped to the injured knee, balancing himself with his right palm on the ground. He tucked his balance-arm, rolling away from the charging paladin.  In two skilled roll-and-bounce moves, the death knight was back on his feet crouching in a defensive position.  The Frostmourne hilt was held low at the waist, projecting the blade across the death knight’s chest, for protection.  The death knight favored his injured right thigh, but dare not take his eyes from the paladin’s.

Chasiah stood poised in an offensive stance; his blade pointed at the death knight; his right hand grasping for the Libram dangling from his hip.  Arthas had been hurt. The paladin spied blood flowing from the cut through the plate.  Chasiah’s demeanor switched from defensive to aggressive; cocky.

“You bleed, Arthas.  Whatever you are now, you are still human.  You will die as one of us, tonight.”

“Nonsense, Stromgarde.  Your weakness has always been your inability to control your emotions.  A fact I remember, all too well.  As I recall, your father Thamore showed the same signs of weakness, the night I killed him in my father’s throne-room!”

From a distance, Dothranis saw the battle ensue, but was still unable to free himself from the never ending onslaught of Scourge.  Dot saw the two fighters standing toe-to-toe.  Arthas appeared to be hurt, while Chasiah positioned himself for another attack. Where was his shield?  Dot couldn’t think straight.  He was concentrating on keeping himself and as many of the remaining battalion alive, as possible.  Then the unthinkable happened.  Dot saw Chasiah burst into a berserk-filled roar and leap toward the death knight.  His trajectory was too high, though.  Had Chasiah aimed to land behind Arthas?

“Oh my word,” the Shaman whispered.

Arthas watched as the paladin screamed a blood curdling curse, then leaped into the air toward him.  A smirk lit the corners of the death knight’s mouth.  This paladin had been a formidable adversary.  Had he not made a fatal mistake, Arthas thought it possible that Chasiah just might have been able to hurt him again.  But he acted emotionally, and given up the dominant defensive position for the chance at ending their battle with a blind leap and rear attack.  As the paladin sailed and flipped over Arthas, the death knight reached out and snatched at the Libram chain dangling in mid air.  And then…the Frostmourne flew.

THE BOND RENEWED              

The small group was stunned.  Nerra sat with her hands covering her tight pressed lips.  Nnimrod’s eyes searched the ground for an unknown object.  Shala stifled sobs deep in her throat.  The rest of the contingent stared unbelievingly at Fallinchas; their mouths agape.  The death knight inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly.  He opened his eyes, and peered into the slowly burning flames.

“My Lord…” Nerra started.  But she could not find the words to complete her thought.

“I fell that night, Nerra. I jumped through the air intent on catching Arthas from behind.  But he was smarter than I.  He used my emotional weakness to manipulate me.  To the victor goes the spoils.”

Fallinchas stepped away from the bonfire, and walked toward the tent entrance.  Though his back was to the group, his strong voice resonated in the open space.

“There is a gap in my memory.  I see flashes of light as if the very sky above were ablaze; then…there is nothing.  A darkness I cannot describe; timeless.  The next conscious memory I had, was of standing in front of the Light’s Hope Chapel, in the Eastern Plaguelands.  The death knight, Highlord Darion Morgraine of the Ebon Blade and Tirion Fordring of the Argent Dawn had just succeeded in thwarting the Lich King’s plan to kill Fordring and slaughter all at the Chapel.  The elite force of death knights had been freed, and we returned to the Archerus.  It was there that I slowly came to reclaim bits and pieces, of my former life.”

Fallinchas stared into the palms of his hands, pondering the words spoken.

“I do say my former life, because Chasiah Stromgarde was no more.  I had changed in every way possible.  However, I longed to use my new and…strange…talents and skills for the Alliance.  And…as time marched forward, I regained enough of my former life’s memories to remember those who were once closest to me.”

“You returned to Stormwind my Lord,” Nerra said.

“I returned home, to Stormwind, Nerra. Though my return was obviously not praised, I did find acceptance as an ally, in time.  I had to hone my new skills, and earn the right to carry the banner of the Alliance, once more.  But each new task, brought me that much closer to my ultimate goal:  finding my friends.”

Fallinchas slowly turned to find the whole group standing before him, this side of the bonfire, captivated by his tale.

Dimpkin raised a hand, like a school boy in class.  “Lord Fallin, how long was it lad, before ye tracked down yer lady-friend here?”

“She found me, Dimpkin.  I had been freed from the Lich King for over a year, but not dared to look for Dot or Shala, until I could fully control the new skills and powers I possessed.  In truth…I didn’t know who I was completely.  There were still gaps in my memory.  Flashes of faces long gone, and unrecognizable.”

Shala stepped beside Fallinchas and laid her head on the death knight’s shoulder.  She gently stroked a hand across his chest, as he continued to speak.

“I lay my head on the stump of a tree, one night in Elwynn Forest, staring up into the beauty of a clear star-lit sky.  In those days, I spent much time contemplating the meaning behind my existence.  I heard their footsteps long before they knew, that I knew, they were there.  But I sensed no danger in the two strangers approaching.  In fact…there was an air of familiarity about them.”

Fallinchas reached to Shala’s chin, and pulled gently, raising her eye sight level with his own.

“My love, you brought me back. You found me, in the darkness; you and Dot. He never once considered that I was gone forever, and so you found me.  I cannot express my gratitude for him. His friendship and love are irreplaceable.  I cannot explain how much I love you, Shalanaraya. You have loved me for two lifetimes; I did not, nor do I deserve you.  If I should fall tomorrow, know that I am proud to have loved you and eternally grateful to Elune for bringing you into my lives, both past…and present.”

Silence dominated the atmosphere of the tent, once again.  Fallinchas embraced Shala, holding on tight; her smaller delicate frame melting into his strong arms.  She weeped openly now, and whispered her love for the human.

Dimpkin raised a hand, again.  The group rumbled in quiet laughter.  Fallinchas chuckled as he addressed the dwarf.

“Permission to speak, Dimpkin,” he said.

Dimpkin cleared his throat, and handed the goblet back to Fallinchas.  The dwarf looked to the others, as if nervous with anticipation.  “Beggin’ yer pardon, My Lord, but what did Dot say ta ye, when he found ye lying in the grass under tha tree?”

Fallinchas looked past the crusaders, into the flames of the bonfire.  “He walked right up to me, Dimpkin.  Walked right up to me, and produced this goblet from a burlap sack in his hands.  And he said to me, ‘Don’t ever leave this behind again.  Keep it always, to remind you, that you will always be a Champion of the Knights of the Silver Hand, dear friend’.  I’ve never gone into battle without this goblet, since.”

THE CALM BEFORE REDEMPTION

Fallinchas sat on the frozen Saronite plateau outside the tent, as his band of crusaders slept quietly inside.  His cold blue eyes, and eerie white pupils glowed bright against the cold darkness of Ice Crown. They scanned the entire area from the plateau, up to the cloudy black skies above, and back down to the ravaged terrain below the citadel steps.  The sounds of war raged heavily, all around.  Peaceful; music to his ears.

Despite the loss of his good friend, it was a good night.  The crusaders now knew all there was to know of their leader, and he was fine with that knowledge.  They were ready to face a danger that would surely claim the lives of some, if not all of them.  With any luck, Fallinchas would be able to add the Lich King to the casualties.

He had told Shala the truth, and so redeemed himself in her eyes.  That was enough for him.  Tomorrow, he could die happily, knowing that he’d given all of himself to the ones who mattered, in the here and now.  It was folly to assume they would both make it back together.  But there was hope.  Hope was always there.  For that was what the bond of love produced. Hope.

Yet, behind the glazing of hope lie a familiar burning sensation: rage.  Arthas was within reach, and nothing behind that entrance would stop Fallinchas from squaring off against the Lich King, once again.

The death knight sipped the last of the brown-butter mead, from his goblet.  By now, the drink was old, but the cold air of Ice Crown replaced the natural sweetness with a bitter tang that the death knight had come to relish.  He sipped and thought of lost lives and close companions.

“Goodbye Dot, my friend.  Until we meet again, may you watch over Shala. Protect and keep her.”

One more sip, and the mead had vanished.

“Goodbye Chasiah.  Please forgive me…for things done…and for things yet to do.  You were an honorable paladin; far removed from where I am today.  May the Light always shine on you.”

 

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REBOOT

Standard

While staring at the darkened images on my favorite monitor, a couple of recurring messages begin to run laps around the display: “Syntax Error” followed closely by, “A fatal error has occurred. Windows has to shut down.”

At first, the two messages don’t seem to register in my mind. I haven’t seen a ‘Syntax Error’ message since the death of the original floppy disc. My surprise is quickly replaced by the short fuse of anger. I was right in the middle of watching a web-cam couple getting pretty hot and heavy. I really wanted to see how the activity progressed.

As I frantically begin mashing buttons in a desperate attempt to free up the apparently frozen screen, my adjacent monitor’s screen saver blinks into a black screen. Suddenly, letters begin popping up on the screen, as if the monitor is in some weird form of DOS code.

G:/> what do you think you’re doing?

My fingers stop moving. They simply hover over the keyboard, as I stare at the black screen for a moment. I glance back toward the frozen monitor. The ‘Syntax Error; A fatal error…’ messages are now scrolling freely up and down the screen. I resume my manic button pressing, while cursing under my breath.

The adjacent monitor burps a loud “BEEP!”, and I almost jump right out of my seat.

G:/> i said, what do you think you’re doing?

“What in God’s name-”

G:/> don’t you dare use that language with me mister! you’re in enough trouble as it is…

G:/> …what with you downloading pornography, and all.

I’m flabbergasted. Who in the world hacked into my system, to watch what I was doing in the privacy of my own home? I can’t do anything but stare at the black screen.

G:/> well? I’m waiting for an answer.

“What the frick is going on here,” I shout at the screen. I’m lifting the keyboard to inspect it, when the frozen monitor suddenly burps an angry “BEEP!” at me. I’m so startled by the sound, I fumble the keyboard from my hands. It crashes to desk. Miscellaneous pieces of plastic and three dislodged keys come to rest. In a fit of rage, I swear the likes of which might put a sailor to shame.

The monitor to my left, previously displaying the revolving error messages, blinks black. Now both monitors are displaying DOS coding. The left monitor’s code stops my ranting, cold.

JC:/>  are you finished yet? he’s still waiting for an answer.

The right monitor displays a new line of code, as if answering.

G:/>  yes. i’m still waiting for an answer.

My unbelieving eyes dart back and forth between the two monitors. My mouth is parched. All at once, I’m dying for a drink of water.

“What is this? Who’s doing this?”

Both monitors “BEEP!” at me, and display the same message simultaneously.

JC:/>  i am!

G:/>  i am!

It suddenly dawns on me, what’s happening.

“Oh my…” I whisper.

Rolling my chair away from the desk, I drop to my knees, my face planted against the soft carpet. I spread my arms out along the floor as far as I can.

“Father God, please forgive my indiscretions. In a moment of weakness, I fell victim to Satan’s temptation. In that moment, he reverted me back into someone I once was. Forgive my lusting eyes, my loose and disrespectful tongue. Forgive my misplaced anger.”

From the floor, I hear both monitors “BEEP!” simultaneously. I glance up to find the right monitor blinking a blue screen. Red letters spell out “DOWNLOADING”. The left monitor is also blinking the same blue screen in rhythm, with the word “UPLOADING” sprawled over the display.

“Download/ Upload?” I ask.

As if in answer to my question, both monitors fade to black. Code begins to appear.

JC:/>  ephesians 4:22

G:/>  ephesians 4:29

I scramble for my Bible buried under paperwork on my desk; two months of dust smother its cover. Flipping to Ephesians, I careful read off the verses.

“Wow. Lust and deception; don’t use foul and abusive language. Thank you for reminding me, Lord.”

JC:/>  you’re welcome. i love you.

G:/>  leave the sin where it belongs. do not return to it.

My desktop’s power lamp died. Both monitor power buttons went dim. I sit down at the desk, pushing the shattered keyboard aside, and begin to read through the book of Ephesians, starting from chapter 1.

Seriously; 12 Again?

Standard

“This can’t possibly be reality,” I keep telling myself, as I go through the familiar motions of preparing for another year’s first day of school.

Last night, I went to sleep on our lumpy mattress; a 42-year old dad stressed out about the mounting bills, the kid’s braces, the wife’s car problems and the possibility of my overtime being cut at the job. The last thing I remember before nodding off, was wishing I could go back and start over, wherever it was that my life took a turn.

So how in the world did I wake up in my childhood bedroom, in 1985, on the first day of the 7th grade? While it all feels surreal, it actually feels familiar at the same time. I heard dad’s radio clock click onto News/Radio 950 at 4:30am, just like it always did. I heard him shower; smelled the fresh Folgers coffee brewing around 6:30am, mingled with slightly burned toast. I heard the side door close as he left for another day at Chrysler. When Ma flipped the switch to our bedroom light at 7:30am, I immediately hopped up first, to get to the bathroom before my little brother, Andre. I didn’t even realize the change until I walked past the bathroom vanity, took an absent glimpse at myself as I passed by the basin, and noticed I was too short to see my own reflection.

“What the hell?” I shouted.

“Boy! What did you just say?” My Ma yelled from the kitchen.

I clamped my hands over my mouth, disbelieving what just came out. That was the voice of my eight-year old son that just cursed.

I look up in time to see the flash of brown, followed by an incredible sting across my forehead. Ma’s patented bee-sting backhand.

“Don’t you ever let me hear you use that language again, Ennis Smith! Get your scrawny butt in that room and get dressed!”

“Yes ma’am,” I squeaked, as I rubbed the tender spot above my eyes.

Andre broke into laughter.

“What are you lookin’ at butthead?”

That line from ‘Back to the Future’ had become my favorite quote when I was…now. This age. Not back then, but right now! That’s when it all hit me like a ton of bricks.

“I don’t believe it. I’m 12 again? Seriously; 12 again? Why couldn’t I dream of being 24, or 27? What did I eat last night?”

“Ma, Enn’s talkin’ crazy in here,” Andre yelled. “I think you hit him too hard.”

My punk, kid brother was a snitch back when we were young. Suddenly, instead of freaking out about the whole situation, I actually began to revel in it. Somehow, I had gone back to 1985. Okay, it’s absurd but it’s whatever. But, I’ve still got every bit of knowledge and physical skill I’ve obtained over the last 29 years!

“Son-of-a-bi-”

“Ma! He’s in here cuss-”

I slapped a hand over the kid’s mouth. “Shut it squirt, or I’ll pound you! I won’t cuss anymore; I promise.”

He nodded furiously. I set him free, and he immediately goes for his new school outfit. Meanwhile, I’m standing in the middle of our bedroom looking at the peach colored walls, the bunk beds, the wooden table. Our Casio keyboard and cassette tape recorder on top of the table. I spin around when I hear the panting from behind me.

“Tiger? Tiger! You’re here!” I yell at our slightly overweight Alaskan Malamute. He died of cancer when I was 18. But here he stands, rubbing his wet nose into my palm, just like he used to do when he wanted to be petted. I can’t help myself. I burst into tears, knowing there’s no way this can be happening, but wanting to stay in the moment for awhile longer.

Thirty minutes later, I’ve eaten breakfast, brushed my teeth, brushed my hair and slapped on my brand new Addidas. Andre and I are in the living room watching the new season of the Transformers, while Ma is putting on the finishing touches of her makeup in preparation for another workday. I remember how much I hated seeing Optimus Prime die in the movie this past summer, and how much I hated the new cast of Autobots and Decepticons. Seriously, Rodimus Prime could never replace Optimus. And Galvatron was simply Megatron with a new paintjob.

None of that stuff really plays on my mind beyond memory, right now. I’m too busy trying to remember what was significant about my first day of school, in 1985. Apparently, it was important enough for God to send me back. Maybe I’m supposed to correct a mistake?

“Let’s see: Mrs. Johnson is gonna be my teacher. Eventually, I’m gonna hook up with Charles Barnett, Chimpes, and Richard Ramirez. Misty Nielsen is going to…”

And suddenly, there it was. It was her. Misty Nielsen. The infamous first day of school. The day I would tell her how much I really liked her, only to have her laugh at me. I remembered laughing along with her, but deep down inside, it had killed my confidence. It was the type of blow that a boy never recovers from. For the rest of my days, through adolescence and into adulthood, I was a shy introvert always afraid of being hurt by someone. I would never again take risky chances, and eventually, my life would become a series of unfulfilled accomplishments due to my lack of trying my best.

“Not today. Today it’s gonna be different.”

The first few hours go by like a blur. I flow through the motions, easily remembering names associated with faces, and try my best to maintain the rhetoric of an 80s era 12-year old. These kids know nothing about iPods, smartphones and WiFi. So morning conversation is restricted to Run-DMC, the freshest arcade game out, called Super Mario Bros., my cousin Lasker’s latest and biggest boombox (everyone always wanted to talk about him), who was the bicycle cat-walk king of the summer, and so on. And then, 11:30am. As the classroom breaks for the half day, I spot her in the hallway, just where I remembered. She turns to descend the steps headed out of the building. This is my chance…again. I remember I had planned this all summer long, and had finally built up the nerve to approach her. This time would be different, because no 12-year old girl was going to stand a chance against my 42-year old mentality and vocabulary.

I break away from Dushaun Madison, just as he was beginning to talk about how much he hated his sister watching ‘Gem and the Holograms’. I was always a quick little guy. Three good strides place me down the linoleum floored-hallway and around the corner, just in time to see her leave the building. I take the steps three at a time. Man, it feels good to have knees that don’t ache. Once I explode through the door, I almost bump right into her as she stood on the concrete steps waiting for her mother. She turns to look at me, and all at once…I really am 12 again. Deer caught in the headlights. Her eyes are so green and captivating, I can’t move; can’t even speak.

“Hi…Ennis. What’s up?” She says.

Gall Darn it, say something, you idiot, I think to myself. I open my mouth and hear a replay of that faithful day.

“Uh, hi…Mi…Misty. I just wanted…you know, I mean, I wanted to tell you…”

I can feel my eyes starting to shift away from hers. She stands there, and begins smiling, making me feel uncomfortable all over again. Second time at 12, and she’s doing it to me again. I’m failing!

“NO!” I suddenly shout. She jumps, not sure what to make of my outburst.

I take a deep breathe, and remember who I really am, and what I came to do.

“Uh, are you okay? You need the see the nurse or something,” she says.

“As a matter of fact, I am okay. And I’m gonna be okay. I just came out here to tell you that I really like you, Misty. I think you’re beautiful and I would love to go steady with you. But you probably think I’m a joke. Maybe I’m too small for you, or not tough enough, or too shy, or too skinny. Whatever the case may be, you won’t appreciate my giving you my heart. So what I’m gonna do is…”

I quickly scoop her hand into mine before she knows what’s happening. I peck it with pursed lips, the way the old guys used to do in the black and white pictures my Ma used to love watching. Then I release her, like her hand is a rotten potato I didn’t want to hold on to anymore.

“Someday I’m gonna be somebody big; someone important. You? You’re gonna chase all types of lowlife guys in some ridiculous search for real love, and none of them will be able to provide it for you. They’ll never measure up to the man I’m going to become, starting today. So, I just wanted to say, I’m gonna love you for the rest of my life. But, unfortunately, I’m just too good for you. Hasta la vista, baby.”

“What?” she says. But…she’s not laughing. In fact, the look on her young face is curious bewilderment.

That’s my que. Exit, stage right. I wink at her, the way my dad winks at my Ma. Stepping off the concrete porch, I poke my scrawny chest into the wind and walk toward home with my head held high. It’s a confidence I’ve never felt before. Yet somehow it is distantly familiar. As I walk down Outer Drive, everything around me takes on a dull fade, as if a movie is fading to black.

I open my eyes. I’m staring at a vaulted ceiling with an expensive ceiling fan quietly rotating. My back should be stiff from another rotten night’s sleep. But…I feel as if I’m laying on feathers. The pillows underneath my head are so fluffy. My sheets are so comfortable; expensively comfortable. I shift my head to the right, where my wife usually sleeps with her back toward me. I’m met with the most lovely pair of green eyes I’ve ever seen. She’s smiling at me. It’s her. She’s here, right next to me…today.

“Good morning, Mr. Smith,” Misty says with a devilish grin.

“Good morning, baby.” I reply. It’s all so familiar, yet so different. But different isn’t so bad.

“I had the weirdest dream last night,” she says. “Do remember when we were about 12 years old?”

Faith like Rob Harlan

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Every writer struggles with doubt. When the masterpiece is completed and the dreams seem larger than life, that’s the time when reality brutally slams us back down to the hard crust of the earth; snatched from the heights of “What If”. Many bow under its weight and turn away from destiny. Still, others refuse to take flight in the first place; too petrified by the fear of failure to even try.

Hang on and just dream for a second. Allow yourself to accept “What If” for only a moment. What if you actually write that masterpiece? What if someone outside of your trusted circle likes it? What if that someone knows someone, who knows someone, who is acquainted with someone else, who happens to be a ‘somebody‘ deep within the matrix of the book business? And, what if said somebody decided to take a chance on you; the kind of chance that could effectively change your life forever?  Isn’t this the scenario we all (as aspiring authors) secretly long for?

In Richard Paul Evans’ 2003 novel, “A Perfect Day”, that’s exactly what happened to Rob Harlan. Rob’s an average husband and father, stuck in a temporary-turned-permanent day job of little fulfillment, who just so happens to be a closet aspiring author. When life interrupts his mediocre existence, Rob finds the courage to pursue the dream of published authorship. With the masterpiece completed, Rob submits his completed manuscript to 25 literary agents…then waits. Many of us are familiar with what comes next: the blizzard of rejections. Time passes and the rejection notices tally 24. Then it happens; the one! A single agent connected with Rob’s story and turned his entire world upside down, almost overnight.

This book was so inspiring because it allowed me to think, it’s okay to dream the big dream. It’s okay to desire the success of my own book. In fact, we authors absolutely have to stick to our guns and hold tight to the reigns of the dream if we truly want the victory, no matter what obstacles may befall us.

I recently had a respected and successful author say my book title was too complicated and that I should consider removing my face from the back cover. Talk about having the wind blown from your sails! Those comments left me in a temporary state of depression. But, then I began to read “A Perfect Day” and found that I simply couldn’t put it down. I identified with Rob Harlan. He was just like me, and yet he held on until the miracle happened.

I want that favor. I need my book to find the hands of that one, who sees the story just as I’ve seen it every time I read it. I believe in my story, and I’m not willing to let reality snatch me from the clouds of “What If”.

So, you’ve written the masterpiece, and its good; really good. You feel it deep down in your soul every time you read through some of the lines of dialogue. Don’t quit, everYou have to share your story with the world. Work hard and research the avenues. Strike out through social media. Bombard your email list. Connect to literary agents. Do whatever you need to do, to get that story from your computer out into the world, because you are an author and authors write fabulous tales! Keep the faith and reach for the high clouds of “What If”. Who knows, I just might see your name among the greats one day.

Hebrews 11:1

The Hero In Me

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Everyone has an inner hero; that imaginary version of yourself, you wish you could be 24 hours a day. Your avatar, if you will. Some people see themselves as righteous Superman. Others see themselves donning the black cape and cowl of the anti-heroic Batman. Still, others see themselves as the witty Spiderman. Heck, some folks envision themselves as the president of the United States.

I tend to lean toward a fantasy fictional character of my own design. My inner hero is vertically challenged, but has the heart of a lion coupled with a fighter’s spirit. Despite his brash demeanor, he is genuinely concerned with the overall positive outcome of a challenge. My hero thrives under pressure and rarely remains idle for a moment. He’s no one you’ve ever heard of before, because I made him myself. He is Chasmi the dwarf warrior.

Chasmi represents the hero I wish I could be, in any situation where courage needs to be second nature. Despite his short size—I mean c’mon; he is a dwarf, after all—he embodies the fortitude of The Man of Steel, with the attitude of the Dark Knight. A descendent from the clans of Ironforge, Chasmi has a deep rooted connection to the dwarven ways of his ancestors. That connection is the very source of his strength, as he constantly seeks to honor his ancestors by his heroic deeds and sense of justice. The lil guy wields dual swords (Truth & Justice) to cut through all obstacles blocking his path. He’s truly fearless.

In reality, my courage is not so obvious. My humanity and flesh more times than not, tend to stutter my sense of heroism. But, every now and again, the Chasmi in me shows up, and I manage to attack a challenge ferociously. Oh, that I might be able to muster that courage at all times, especially where defending the Lord comes into play.

You know what? Sometimes, I think to myself, “What would Chas do in this situation?” Call it childish if you want. Some of my biggest accomplishments were made considering what the little hero inside of me would do in my current situation. So, if you learn anything from this random-thought piece, learn to listen to the hero inside of you, when it comes to facing your fears.

CHAPTER 3 – The Deep Blue Darkness

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“Paraclete’s Promise: The Fantastic Fantasies Of Timothy” has received great feedback from many people who have read through it! Still, I want this story–and the message within–to reach out far and wide. My hope and prayer is, sharing chapters 1,2 and 3 will leave you wanting more. The book is available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Apple, and Xulon Press Bookstore. Enjoy the tale, friends.


The Deep Blue Darkness

“I am with you, Tim. I’ll be right beside you, through and through. I promise,” someone whispered.

The blue light seemed to fade into a hazy, ominous darkness. There was a chill in the air. The open space of the box didn’t feel so confining anymore.

“Tim,” a voice rang in his left ear, startling him. “Is everything okay in there, buddy?  My equipment suddenly went dark and I lost my bearings for a second. When I came out, the pod lights were switched off. Did you fall asleep again?”

Tim jerked, dropping a hard-cover book onto the floor. It struck, with a heavy metallic sound. He instinctively reached for and depressed a tiny red button on a device tucked snug inside his ear. As he did so, recollection petrified his movement.

What the heck’s a com-link, and why do I know how to use it? he thought.

“Tim are you there,” said the voice over the com-link speaker.

“Ah, yeah…Jonah. I copy. Everything’s alright up here. I must’ve blinked for a second. Sorry about that.”

Who is Jonah, he wondered, as he released the button. There was a split second of static interference, before Jonah’s voice streamed through the receiver speaker.

“You’d better not be up there sleeping! Keep watch so that you don’t fall into trouble. I’m headed back into the cave to resume the search.”

Pressing the red button again, Tim responded, “Copy that, Jonah; headed back in.”

Tim slowly leaned back in his captain’s chair, allowing his eyes to adjust to the limited blue light of his surroundings. As he listened to the squeak of the soft leather and the hiss of the chair’s hydraulic cylinder, his finger stroked the tiny com-link and marveled at what his eyes began to register. He was no longer inside the box.

An enormous cluster panel of buttons, control switches, knobs and gadgets of all sorts stood before him. His legs seemed to be drawn underneath the panel, as if he were seated at a table. Two leather-clad steering wheels extended out of the control panel: one directly in front of him and another off to his right. Beyond the control panel, and enveloping the area, the space seemed to be made of a see-through glass or metal. He could see through the walls, floor, and ceiling.

“Wow,” he whispered. “That’s not see-through glass. Those are screens; monitors, everywhere.  What is this place?”

Tim gently pushed away from the panel, freeing his legs. The chair’s stainless steel wheels whispered as they rolled out from underneath the control deck. He shuffled his boot clad feet across the smooth floor, tracking a slow, 360-degree spin. The apparently seamless monitors provided a crystal clear view of blue darkness around, above, and below the room. Miscellaneous beeps and flashes of multicolored dim strobes resonated from surrounding instrument panels that seemed to float in empty space. The deep blue beyond the panels was scary, but exciting at the same time. There were strange creatures mulling about outside the room.

“No, not flying,” he whispered. “They’re swimming. I’m underwater. Those are fish I see.”

They were indeed. Strange fish, with wobbly stalks pointing out from the tops of their oblong heads, swam around in groups. At the tip of the stalks, he could see small illuminated bulbs dangling in front of huge, dull gray eyes. Tim recalled a Discovery Channel program on deep sea life, remembering that certain species of fish thrived deep in the ocean where normal fish could never survive.

“I’m at the bottom of the ocean. This is amazing!”

Tim flipped a toggle-switch on the control panel, next to the steering wheel. The ocean lit up a bright yellow as overhead lighting attached somewhere to the roof of the pod exploded into a brilliant display. Schools of weird fish scrambled. Glancing into the floor monitors underneath his feet, he watched a huge spotted leopard-shark swim gracefully through the beam of light shining from the pod’s undercarriage lighting. Reaching toward his left ear again, Tim depressed the red button on the com-link.

“Hey Jonah,” he said. “You might want to keep an eye out for the big guy, just south of home base. He’s not too shy of foreigners.”

There was a static crackle in his left ear and then, “Roger that buddy. Soon as he’s out of the area, I’m heading in, Roger?”

That means Okey-dokey, Tim thought. “Roger that.”

As Tim sat, slowly taking in the overwhelming sights and sounds of his immediate surroundings, he barely registered a distance voice somewhere deep within the recesses of his mind. It spoke as a tiny whisper, but quickly exploded into a booming voice resounding in his heart.

Adventure is everywhere. Yours has just begun.

Tim doubled over in the chair, gripping his head with both hands. His mind suddenly flooded with images; memories of a life and events he hadn’t seen before this moment. It was as if his brain had begun to download a large cache of information. Tim clamped his eyes shut, and saw a ceremony fast forward in his mind.

Here was Jonah, silhouetted, standing beside him, shaking the hand of the president of the United States of America. The much taller president had to stoop down to one knee, as he pinned a large metal of commendation onto Jonah’s crisp blue uniform. As the president stood, 9-year-old Jonah looked up toward his smiling face and snapped off a professional salute. The president looked down at him and flashed a quick salute of his own, then turned toward Tim to salute him as well.

“On behalf of a grateful nation, I would like to recognize these two young brave explorers as national heroes,” the president said as he spoke into a podium microphone. “Godspeed, young sirs. May your journey to the deepest parts of the Bermuda Triangle prove to be successful in solving the world’s energy crisis.”

Behind his closed eyes, Tim saw a bright flash of white light, as the memory of the ceremony was replaced. He was now standing on the deck of the S.S. Jolly Roger, looking up into the clear blue sky over the ocean. To his right, he heard Jonah running through a last minute checklist of supplies already stored inside the mini pod submarine the two of them were about to board. The same pod he found himself in now.

“Any last requests before we get this expedition started, buddy?” Jonah had asked.

“Nope. I’m as ready as I can be. I’m just taking in one last look at the sun before we go under for a few days.” Tim had replied.

His mind blacked out; the memories vanishing just as quickly as they began. As Tim slowly opened his eyes, he saw the book lying against the floor monitors. It was his old Fire Bible, but the book seemed twice as thick as he remembered and was encased in a protective metal shell. Tim picked the book up, and set it on top of the control panel, off to his left. He focused on the instrument panel of the pod, and remembered where he was and what he was doing here. He punched a few numbers on a key pad cluster, and glanced toward his left. The monitor wall next to him zoomed in 500X normal magnification. Tim could now see subterranean mountains beyond the pod. To the left, he could make out a hole in the side of the underwater mountain that climbed over the pod.

“That’s the cave Jonah’s in. He’s searching for the treasure box of the last pirates of Camoon. That’s what we’re down here looking for. That treasure could be an energy source, and we’re the only team in the whole world able to find it.”

To the right of the pod, Tim could see nothing, but dark blue.

“That’s the open ocean. That leads the way out.”

Looking up through the ceiling monitors, Tim smiled at the darkness above the pod’s roof. There was nothing, but the bright yellow glow of the lights. He could see microscopic things floating in the path of the beams. Static sounded over the com-link.

“Hey Tim, you might want to jump into your suit and come down here. You’re not gonna believe what I just found!”

Tim spun his chair, leaped out and jogged four steps toward the monitor-covered door of the pod’s control room. The door automatically retracted into the wall as he approached. Once through the door, he sprinted toward the back of the pod. He was not surprised to find this section of the mini pod a dull metallic gray, as he ran down the narrow hallway. Storage cabinets, a small two-person sleeping quarter, and a tiny kitchenette lined the left side of the pod. To his right, he ran past an engine compartment that banged and clanked with the inner workings of the pod’s propulsion system. A bank of gauges and smaller television monitors lined the wall, beyond the engine compartment. Mini 60W light bulbs ran the length of the ceiling, every 30 feet. The hallway was damp and cool, but the air was fresh, as he ran toward the pod’s armory in the tail-end of the craft. He pressed the red button on the com-link.

“Talk to me Jonah, whatcha got?”

“The jackpot I think! This thing is…wait…wait a minute.”

Tim stopped in front of a locker, pressing his hand against his ear. He held his breath and waited for Jonah to continue.

“Wait. Something’s down here; something big.”

Static sounded over the com-link. Tim pressed the red button again, as he looked through the monitors and stared off toward the distant mountain side.

“Jonah? J-Man come back, I didn’t catch that last part. You said something’s down there?”

No answer. Tim fought panic, as a few seconds of silence became one minute of dead air space.

“Jonah, are you there, buddy?” A cold shiver began to climb his back as he again waited for some answer from Jonah. Tim stood staring at the monitor. His hand gripped tight around the zoom toggle wheel. A dull ache began to throb in his forearm. Suddenly, static pierced the silence.

“Up!”

More static.

“It’s coming your way; Buckle up!” Jonah screamed into the com-link. Tim’s heartbeat kicked into high speed and his body suddenly chilled over. He pressed the red button on the com-link again.

“Jonah, what was that? I didn’t hear your message, Jonah. Please repeat!”

“Tim can you hear me! It must have seen the lights!” More static, and then, “Strap in and shut off the lights! It’s headed your way!”

“Oh no,” Tim whispered. He turned and darted back toward the control room. Suddenly, there was a loud bump from the front end of the pod. Tim lost his footing as the weight of the under-sea vehicle shifted under his feet. His face slammed into a locker and he crumpled to the floor.

Static filled his left ear just as alarms began to wail all around him. Pulsing red lights flashed in unison with the alarms.

“Tim, I repeat: the beast has left the cave, and is headed your way. You have to shut down the pod lights!”

Tim shook the stars from his vision and shot a glance toward the front of the pod.  He had to get to the light switch before that…thing…circled back again. He jumped to his feet, still feeling the effects of the blow, and centered himself. Pressing the red button on the com-link, he bolted for the front of the pod and yelled into the com-link’s mini speaker.

“Roger that, Jonah! I’m on my way up front! What is that thing?”

“Thank the Lord, you’re okay. I don’t know what it is. I didn’t get a good look at it, from the cave.”

The crash had strewn equipment all over the pod. Tim jumped and evaded loose boxes on the floor and sparking cables, hanging from the ceiling as he ran. Just as he made it back into the control room, he took a flying leap and landed, chest first, onto the control panel. His right hand thumbed the toggle switch to the off position as he collided with the controls. The lights on the roof and below the belly of the pod died instantly.

At first there was a wave of bubbles and a shove of water as the force of the creature’s abrupt stop shoved the pod back gently. When the bubbles cleared, Tim found himself staring at a thing that looked, oddly enough, like a gigantic Blue crocodile with no appendages. The creature waded slowly and effortlessly in front of the pod as if waiting for something to happen. Its eyes, one on each side of its head, seemed to glow a bright yellow in the darkness of the ocean. Tim saw jagged, horns protruding from the monster’s snout, traveling back and over its head.

He lay still across the control panel, convinced that the monster could somehow see him through the thick quadruple-reinforced steel shell of the pod. Static shrieked in his left ear, sending a chill up his spine.

Jonah whispered, as if he were in hiding. “Don’t touch anything, Tim. It’s staring right at the outer hull of the control room. Are you good?”

“Jonah, I wanna go home right now,” Tim whispered.

“I think it knows you’re in there,” Jonah said.

Tim remained motionless as the crocodile-thing slowly moved toward the right side of the pod. It swam close, almost touching the metal hull with its snakelike body slithering through the ocean. His eyes, trained on the monster, paced the creature as it circled around the back end of the pod. He saw that the horns across its head grew increasingly larger as they drew across its back, until the tail itself was nothing more than a huge sharp horn. Tim slowly inched his way off of the control panel and stood on shaky feet. Watching the floor monitors, he saw the creature swim underneath toward the front end again.

Radio static sounded over the com-link in Tim’s left ear.

“Mother of pearl, that’s a big sucker.” Jonah whispered. “I guess now we know why no one’s ever returned with Camoon’s treasure. Are you okay up there?”

“Fine; I don’t think it sees me, but don’t want to make any sudden moves yet.”

The creature circled the pod again in the same pattern as before, and centered toward the front again. Its mouth opened wide, revealing a double row of sharp points on the top and bottom. Despite the darkness of the deep blue sea, the monster’s teeth seemed to glow a magnificent yellow, just like its eyes. A wave of terror gripped Tim, as he suddenly imagined the monster ripping through the metal walls of the pod with those teeth. The creature’s yellow forked tongue appeared from the black abyss of its open mouth and began jerking fiercely.Tim pressed the com-link button on his ear piece.

“It’s trying to lure me out,” he whispered. “It does know I’m inside.”

The mouth snapped shut, as one of the weird light-bulb stick fish swam too close to the jerking tongue. The creature moved with lightning speed for its size. It made an about-face and disappeared into the darkness of the open ocean.

The Walking Dead

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The Walking Dead 

Marc patiently sat, watching Grace fidget with a single strand of dry hair for the hundredth time. Forty minutes had past, since she first stepped to the vanity. A sympathetic smile curled the edges of his lips.

“Sweetheart-”he started.

“Shush! Don’t you say a word!” Grace combed her fingers through lack-luster, moisture-starved locks. “I can’t do a thing with this mop, today! Honey, I don’t think I’m ready. Maybe we should wait until next week.”

Marc, watched as flakes of brown ash rained down Grace’s shoulders and settled into a neat little pile around her feet. Dust encircled her head, as she turned away from the living room vanity. He gathered she was entertaining second thoughts.

“No, you look beautiful, sweetheart. Remember, your appearance isn’t what’s important, there. Mine should be the only opinion that counts, right?”

Grace’s pupil-less eyes gazed at the floor, as she twiddled her fingers around the hem of her dusty black silk dress. A black teardrop rolled down her cracked brown cheek, trailing ash as it dangled from her chin. Marc crossed the living room and wrapped an arm around her waist. Pulling her close enough to inhale her putrid breath, he lifted her chin.

“Hey, do you hear me? You look beautiful. You are beautiful…to me.”

“Oh Marc, they’re all going to judge me the moment I walk into that place! How can you stand to be seen with me?”

Grace buried her face into Marc’s brilliant golden shirt. She felt his strong arms embrace her; fire seemed to ignite her skin where his arms touched. Despite the burn, the heat was soothing. Once again, she found herself amazed at their differences, but thankful for his presence in her life; such as it was.

“For better or for worse, remember?” Marc squeezed Grace, filling her fragile, decaying body with all the love he could muster. “You never quit. Even if something or someone changes, you never quit, babe.”

Grace suddenly tore away from Marc’s embrace, crossing the living room toward the bay window overlooking the downtown square. Ash trailed along the dirty white carpet, as her dress sashayed against the exfoliating skin of her legs. Grace folded her arms, absently scratching at a dry patch as she stared through the window toward the street, three stories below. Outside, ‘normals’ and ‘brighties’ milled about. She was suddenly reminded of just how different she and Marc were, once again.

“Honestly Marc, I don’t know why you even stay with me. I’m sure you could find yourself a nice brighty to shack up with. You people seem to keep to yourselves anyway. Why waste your time? Don’t your friends badger you about your normal wife?”

“Stop it, Grace. That’s the enemy playing his double-minded game on you right now. You know I don’t want anyone else, but you.” Marc slid behind Grace. He gently massaged her frigid shoulders. “Besides, I would never force you to do this sweetheart. You know that. But I can’t lie to you; it’s a better life. Honey, look at me.”

Grace slowly spun around and stared into her husband’s dazzling golden-brown eyes; those unnerving, yet peaceful eyes. His gentle smile was filled with warmth that called out to something deep within her soul; something she didn’t understand. His touch burned her shoulders, but the heat radiated a weird pleasure within her bones. Grace began to cry, staring into his radiant face.

“Sweetheart, I will wait for you, for as long as it takes,” Marc said, “but I pray that you make the decision before it’s too late. I know how afraid you must be. I get it; I was there once, remember? But I found out, fear was only keeping me from experiencing true life. Look out the window. There.”

Grace and Marc looked toward the corner of Sodom and Gomorrah, where a normal couple were crossing the street, approaching a bright couple. As the bright couple approached, Grace saw the man, dressed in a brilliant golden-fleece jacket, raise a hand of salutation toward the normal man. The normal couple, seemly appalled by the gesture, jerked out of reach, and scurried to the other side of the crossing. A hint of embarrassment stabbed at Grace’s heart, while Marc only shook his head.

“Did you see that? Fear of life. Sure, I get some folks who heckle me about our unique relationship. But the hecklers look like you: normal.”

“But that’s impossible,” Grace said. “I thought that only brighties worked on staff, with you?”

“Well, there’s the punch line, isn’t it? Once upon a time, they were bright. In their minds, they believe they are still bright. It is possible to lose the luster of life.”

Grace pondered this, for a moment. “How is it possible for…someone like you, to become normal again? Listen to me. I say that as if it’s actually a bad thing!”

“The bright can lose sight of what true life is all about, honey. The moment the luster becomes a badge of achievement, it tarnishes. The luster of true life was never meant to be flaunted as an idol, but that’s exactly what some people make of it. That’s why normal folk fear the luster. A few bad apples really can spoil the bunch, or at least the appearance of the bunch.”

Grace shrank under the weight of some invisible force. Her shoulders slumped. Marc pulled her tight against himself, to steady her.

“Marc…I’m so tired of being afraid of…of you; of your kind. I love you, but I’m afraid of what you are. I’m tired of the aches and pains in my skin and bones. I’m tired of being angry all the time. Sometimes…death just seems like a viable option to this.”

Marc squeezed his wife gently. His warm lips pecked the frozen nape of her neck.

“Sweetheart, you’re already walking in death. Come into life. For better or for worse, remember? Come to life, with me.”

Pride broke within Grace and she sobbed. As Marc held her close, hot tears rolled down his glowing brown cheeks. A fizz and puff of ashen smoke rose from Grace’s breast as Marc’s tears dripped onto her cold flesh, sending a shockwave of painful pleasure coursing through her body.

“Marc I want to, but I don’t know how to start. Please, help me. I can’t do this on my own.”

“You won’t have to, sweetheart. That’s the enemy taunting you again. He knows you’re ready to make the decision that will change everything for you. But, I’m with you. I’ll always be with you. I’ll never leave you, sweetheart. Steady now. Breathe with me.”

Grace drew in several short gasps, as the last of her sobs subsided. She felt the heat of her husband’s body rest against her; felt the warmth of his arms wrapped around her cold shoulders; smelled the overpowering sweet scent of his breath against her face. She slowly began to match his breathing, in and out. Slow. So very slow. Soon, they were in rhythm together.

“Are you ready, sweetheart?” Marc whispered.

“Yes. Take me, now.”

The walk down Sodom was slow and deliberate. Grace was conscious of every set of eyes watching them stroll hand in hand along the gray concrete. Brighties smiled and spoke greetings in passing. Normals, on the hand, avoided Marc and Grace completely. In the few instances when normals were encountered, she heard whispered curses in passing, tempting her to respond in kind. Oh, if not for the temperance of her husband. Several times, she looked to Marc, to find him smiling as they walked. What was he so happy for? All the time! This perpetual happiness of his was down-right maddening! But, then she reminded herself that today was the day, she’d chosen to find out personally. No more fighting it.

The sky was cloud free and clear blue-gray. Nice weather, she thought. Grace glanced at the gray-brownstone Condominiums across the street. She noticed the disproportionate number of normals to brighties leisurely walking the blocks. But that wasn’t really right at all. No. The brighties were leisure, while the normals seemed to be perturbed.

“Hmm.”

“What’s that, sweetheart?” Marc asked.

“You all don’t seem to be too pressed to get anywhere fast, do you?” Grace said with a smile.

“If we’re moving too slow for you, we can pick up the pace. I’m so excited, I could run!”

“No, no. That won’t be necessary,” Grace said. “Honey, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure, go for it.”

“How do you see me? What I mean to say is, color-wise.” Grace searched for the words, barely aware of the burning in her intertwined fingers, resting inside her husband’s hand.

“You’re beautiful, period. What does it-”

“No honey, seriously. You’ve been here before. You know what I’m asking, even though I can’t articulate it. You know why the brighties constantly smile at us when we walk by. Please, tell me how you see me.”

Marc sighed, still smiling. His hand gripped her fingers tighter.

“How about this,” Marc said, sweeping a hand across the skyline. “You see all of this in color no doubt. The sky is blue; the buildings over there are brownstones; there’s Mrs. Jenkins at the fruit stand in a red blouse picking through a bunch of bananas.”

“Yes. Nothing out of the ordinary to me.”

“That’s because you don’t understand truth yet. Your eyes see everything in a shade of gray. It’s not just gray; it’s like a milky film or a fog you see through. The colors of the world come to your vision as an afterthought. Sort of a subtle hint to the gray, rather than the vibrant shades I see.”

Grace slumped, overcome by another wave of shame.

“When you look at other unbelievers-”

“Just call me normal Marc, please.”

“Fine. When you look into the eyes of other normals, you see the gray of their pupils. Tell me, honestly, have you ever seen a normal person with colored pupils? Brown eyes; blue; green; have you ever noticed a shade other than gray, in the eyes of another normal person?”

The thought had never occurred to Grace. Faced with it now, she shook her head, reluctantly agreeing with him.

“No you haven’t. Honey, from my vantage, the normal have no pupils. Your eyes are completely white. You’re missing the light of truth in your eyes.”

Grace’s hand slipped out of Marc’s. He stood there, a few steps ahead, allowing her to engage the moment. Silently, he said a prayer for his wife, as he remembered the feeling of confusion she must now be dealing with.

Grace stood still, staring into her own hands. She lightly brushed her right index finger across her left palm and watched a thin wisp of ash float into the air; brown ash. Glancing up and down the street, she watched normals hustle and bustle. Some were close enough for her to see their pupils. Not a single colored pair of eyes. Different shades of gray, yes. But, not one pair of normal colored pupils, returned her gaze.

“And what of my skin, Marc?” She looked to her husband. Black tears had begun to run down her cheeks again. “What does my skin look like to you?”

Marc stepped to Grace, but she recoiled.

“Sweetheart, you are…and will always be…beautiful to me.”

Grace’s face contoured in anguish. “Stop saying that! Just tell me the truth! What do I look like in your eyes?”

He inhaled deeply, and nodded. “Your skin is brown, like mine. But you do not reflect any sunlight. If it makes any sense to you, I’ll explain it this way: You look as though you have a perpetual layer of cracking mud all over your body. It is smooth to my touch, but cold. Beneath your decaying flesh, I can see the beauty of your Spirit. I see who you really are underneath the surface, Grace.”

She stood before him, horrified. Marc knew how deeply his words cut. But, now was the time for the truth to be completely known. For so long, he had filtered his words; careful in his choices. He never wanted to turn her away from the knowledge of the truth. He knew how crucial this moment was. This was the time when the enemy would come against Grace in full force. For the sake of her salvation, he had to tell her everything.

“To your eyes, I glow like some sort of specter. No matter what color my clothing actually is, you only see a golden shade, honey. It’s uncomfortable for you to look into my eyes, because your decaying mind cannot comprehend the light within me. My touch burns the surface of your skin, but causes a flutter in your heart.”

He reached out and grabbed her shoulders, pulling her closer to him. Grace gasped, as Marc drilled her with a fierce stare. His eyes penetrated her soul. She was simultaneously gripped with a fear of the unknown, and a heat inside her heart unlike any she had ever felt before. Marc had never looked at her this way.

“Marc,” she whimpered, “I’m scared. I’m afraid it’ll hurt me. I’m afraid it will all be too much for me to take, and my heart will burst. I’ll die, Marc.”

“That’s exactly what the enemy wants you to think, my love. Feel my warmth, Grace. Hear my voice. Look at me. Am I dead to you?”

“No. You’re…” she forced herself to hold his frightening gaze, as she searched for the words. “You’re not dead. You’re…beautiful. Marc, you’re beautiful. I want what you have. I want to be beautiful, for you. Why can’t I make up my mind to do this? Why do I continue to struggle?”

“It’s the life you want, vying for control over death, sweetheart; confusion within you.”

“I don’t want it anymore. I’m sure of it.”

“Then let’s go!”

He grabbed her hand and they took flight. Grace ran with a vigor Marc had never seen before. She practically dragged him up the street, toward the church four blocks away.

As they ran, Grace noticed brighties cheering them on. How did they know? It was as if they were cheering specifically for her.

“Run Grace,” Mr. Matinez yelled from his hot dog kiosk across the street. “Don’t stop until you’ve found life!”

Her knees screamed in protest. Her elbow-pain spiked with every stride, but Grace smiled wider with every step. Marc panted as he ran behind her; too slow. She wretched her hand free of his and picked up speed. She ran for life, despite her body’s objections.

“Run honey, run! I’m right behind you! Run, Grace!”

She ran harder than she ever had. Her lungs froze with icy-fire. Her vision swam, in a weird hazy fog. Her breath was shallow. Still she pushed harder. Normals scattered out of her way, as if she were inflicted with a contagious plague. Brighties whooped and hollered on both sides of the street as she strode toward the church, now two blocks ahead. Everything was a blur. She heard shouts of encouragement, screams of terror and anger. Grace never broke stride.

Marc stopped to catch his breath and fished his cell phone from his pocket. He quickly punched speed dial number 3, on the keypad.

“Pastor, it’s me. She’s headed your way, outrunning me! This won’t wait for ceremony. You’ll have to be ready for her.”

“Praise God!” Paster Martin shouted. “I’ll get the team ready. Shall we wait for you, brother?”

Marc was winded. He caught a glimpse of Grace weaving through pedestrians. “No! Don’t wait for me! I’ll get there in God’s time.”

“As fast as you can, brother.”

Marc punched the SEND button, then stuffed the phone back into his black trousers pocket. He looked up into the sky and said a prayer.

“What are you waiting for, Marcus,” Mrs. Walters called out from the flower shop, front door. “Get over here quickly, and take this bouquet for Grace.”

Marc laughed, as he jogged over to the shop.

“She outran me, Marry. Did you see that? My honey ran toward life!”

“I saw it, my dear boy! Today is truly a blessed day. Now hurry, or you’ll miss her salvation!”

Marc grabbed the bouquet of colorful roses, kissed Mrs. Walters on the cheek, and sprinted after his wife.

Grace burst through the church foyer doors, to find a crowd of brighties standing before her, smiling. Her eyes locked with Pastor Martin’s just as her legs gave way. She stumbled into his arms, exhausted and aching. Black tears streamed her cheeks, and she could hardly find the wind to speak.

“Pastor, I…I-”

“It’s alright child, I know. I know! Grace, are you ready to accept the gift of life, God offers freely to you?”

Grace howled in broken submission. “I can’t walk, Pastor. Please, where is Marc? Where is my husband?”

“He’s on his way, Grace. He instructed me to help you along, upon your arrival. Would you like to wait for him, dear sister?”

Dear sister. The term sounded foreign to her ears, but rang true in her heart. As Pastor Martin slung her right arm around his neck, another brighty, Mrs. Jefferson, draped Grace’s left arm around her neck. Together, the three slowly made their way down the main isle of the church, toward a large stage. A congregation of brighties followed behind, spouting prayers and praises to God. At the top of the stage, she saw a large see-through tank filled completely with golden water. Grace was overwhelmed. She couldn’t find her voice. At the bottom of the stage, Pastor Martin stopped.

“Grace, are you sure you want this, daughter? To come into life is a free gift that must be chosen; never forced.”

Grace nodded. “Marcus. Where-”

From the back of the church came a horrendous crash, through the foyer doors.

“Grace! I’m here sweetheart! I’m here!”

Cheers erupted throughout the church. Grace was suddenly aware of dozens of people inside the sanctuary. She felt the strong arms of her husband wrap around her waist and lift her feet from the carpeted floor. Marc’s sweet and warm breath pressed into her right ear.

“I’m here, sweetheart,” Marc whispered. “I’m here. I’m so proud of you. Are you ready?”

Grace stared into his wet eyes. She was beyond exhaustion, and only managed a limp nod and a soft smile.

“Marcus,” Pastor Martin called, “please carry your bride to the baptism tank.”

Marc carried Grace up the flight of six steps, onto the large stage overlooking the sanctuary filling up with onlookers. He turned to face the congregating crowd and was surprised to see a few normal faces cautiously observing from the back of the sanctuary.

“Brothers and sisters,” Pastor Martin’s amplified voice rang out through the church’s sound system, “today…is a glorious day. Today, our Lord welcomes another lost soul into His kingdom. Today, sister Grace has accepted the call of Jesus, quite spiritedly I might add.”

The congregation erupted in cheers and laughter. Grace smiled up at her husband.

“Beautiful for you,” she whispered.

“No, not for me. For you, sweetheart.” Marc whispered. He carried Grace toward three steps ascending to the lip of the tank.

Grace looked at the water. Its shimmering surface seemed to call out to her, inviting her to swim. Living waters, she thought. Suddenly, she shed the last remnants of fear, realizing this was her destiny all along. She was born to swim in the waters of life. Her lips stretched into a wide grin as Marc ascended the steps. Behind Marc, she could barely hear Pastor Martin address her over the cheering crowd. It was the water. It whispered directly into her heart, come into me, Grace. Join me, my sweet.

Marc stepped into the tank and descended the three steps to the bottom, shoes, trousers and all. The moment the water touched Grace’s bare feet, he felt his wife shudder. She clamored for his neck, holding him close.

“It’s okay, sweetheart. I have you.”

The water rose to just above his waistline, submerging Grace’s legs and back. She shook, as if freezing, but held a smile across her face. Marc remembered the sensation of heat and pleasure. And then, he noticed the water.

“Oh my Lord.”

Pastor  Martin placed a hand on Grace’s shaky forehead, and yelled over the crowd. “Sister Grace, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Nodding at Marc, Pastor Martin gently pushed Grace’s head under the golden water.

The first thing Marc noticed was the golden water changing black, as if Grace’s skin had been coated in ink. Next he saw a thin mist rise from the water, where her skin actually came into contact. Before he could fully interpret what was happening, Pastor Martin nodded his way, and Marc completely submerged Grace’s body under water. There was a bright flash, accompanied by a puff of golden smoke hovering over the darkening water. Marc lost the weight of Grace in his arms. She simply wasn’t there anymore! The congregation gasped collectively, before falling silent.

“Pastor! What in God’s name-”

“Quickly Marcus, out of the tank, brother.”

“My wife! Where-”

“Out of the water, brother!”

Marc reluctantly tread up the tank’s inner steps, and vaulted the lip, completely soaked from torso to shoes. He stared into the water, now as black as nightfall. The golden puff of smoke hovering over the water’s surface seemed to increase in density, taking on the shape of a cloud. Marc looked to Pastor Martin, who stood nearby with hands raised in praise. Marc looked back to the cloud now descending over the water. The second it touched the water, it transformed into a golden rain, splashing into the tank, leaving a golden pool surrounded by the black oily water.

In one instant, Grace felt the shock of the golden water burning and soothing her feet, legs and back. Then, she was under. Quiet. No sound from the congregation; no Marc; no Pastor Martin. In fact, her arms and legs seemed to dangle freely as if floating in a deep ocean. Her whole body floated in darkness.

I love you, Grace. Thank you for coming to me. Breathe my gift of life, daughter.

In the next instant, tiled flooring made contact with her feet. Slowly, she pushed up, immediately aware of no pain in any of her joints. As she broke the surface of the water, her vision took on a new sense. Vibrant light shown down on her from overhead fixtures, in differing hues of lavender, raspberry and cobalt. The stage’s carpet texture seemed to jump out at her, in alternating patterns of red and black swath. Pastor Martin rushed toward Grace carrying a billowy royal blue choir robe. A black stripe, blacker than any darkness she had ever seen, straddled the left arm of the robe. Pastor Martin’s face, no longer blazed a fiery golden peach, but glowed a magnificent tanned apricot. She heard the congregation burst into celebration.

“My goodness, child,” Pastor Martin said, stepping into the tank. “Cover yourself with this. You’re as naked as the day you were born!”

Grace was oblivious to the Pastor’s commentary, awe-stricken by her new heightened senses. Everything smelled different, from the Pastor’s cologne to the pastries outside the main sanctuary. She felt the soft fabric of the robe drape over her shoulders; a surprising tickle against her bare skin. As she slowly walked toward the inner steps, she saw him, and her breath caught. Marc was gorgeous.

At first glance, Marc couldn’t believe the miraculous sight of the golden cloud exploding into raindrops, just before collecting like an oil spill on the surface of fresh water. He knew God was capable of anything, but he’d never seen such a site. He blinked, and panic set in momentarily. Where was Grace? Where was his wife? Had something gone horribly wrong? Was she past the point of salvation?

“Pastor, where is my-”

The second glance toward the murky water caught a glimpse of beautiful raven-silky hair slowly rising from the tank. The hair split at the crown exposing a butterscotch-colored forehead; raven eyebrows; hazel eyes; pouty lips slightly split, revealing pearly white teeth. Grace. She was stunning.

“Oh my…”

Marc dropped to one knee, unable to move. Even when Grace stood high enough out of the water, exposing her beautiful breasts, he couldn’t move toward her. He was overcome by emotion. Marc was barely aware of Pastor Martin racing past him, carrying a choir robe. The congregation had exploded into boisterous celebration, but Marc could only see his beautiful bride, and hear the beating of his own heart.

I love you Marcus. Thank you for bringing her to me. Breathe my gift of life anew, son.

Hot tears rolled down Marc’s cheeks, as he struggled to regain strength to stand, tall for his bride.

“Thank you, Lord,” he whispered. “I love you. Thank you for saving my wife.”

Grace raced across the stage, and leapt toward Marc, just as he regained a foot hold. His salty tears mingled with her own, as she smothered him in kisses. She could hardly believe how handsome her husband was; how brave he had been, in sticking by her side for so long; how blessed she was to have him in life, now.

“I can see you, Marc. You’re absolutely beautiful, honey; inside and out. I’ll never leave you.”

“Welcome to the land of the living, sweetheart. You’re more beautiful now, than ever before. I will never leave you, either.”

Marc glanced through the partially opened robe, and smiled wide, secretly thanking God again. Grace held her husband close, allowing his prying eyes to drink in her new-found beauty. She was suddenly aware of claps, whistles and cheers rising from the congregation. Tonight, they would explore their new life together, as one.

“Thank you God, for your gift of life,” she whispered into his ear.

Pastor Martin wrapped his arms around the young couple, shifting them toward the front of the stage. Grace modestly closed the blue robe around her naked body, then waved toward the congregation.

“Brothers and sisters of Living Water Resurrection, please join me in formally welcoming Grace Zoe Adams, into her new life.”

The congregation celebrated, while Grace cried joyful tears.